Cable talk

The voice and data structured cabling systems sector is undergoing major growth worldwide. How is the market developing in the Gulf and what do you need to know before undertaking the design and installation of such systems? MEP Middle East reports.

ANALYSIS, MEP

The demand for ever faster and more secure communications systems has prompted major developments in the structured cabling market over the past few years. The advent of technologies such as the Internet, combined with a growing need to create, transmit and store data quickly and securely has seen a shift towards the use of structured voice and data cabling systems.

"The old method of cabling data and voice separately has been phased out," states Gautier Humbert, Ortronics' technical and training manager Middle East. "The wide majority have accepted that the latest standards have evolved to structured cabling, where all outlets can become voice, data or tv depending on the application required. This enables a much better availability of resources throughout a building and prepares the infrastructure for recent and evolving technologies such as VoIP (voice over internet protocol) and PoE (power over ethernet)," he explains.

Growth within the sector has been fast and improvements in product technology have seen the possible bandwidth, hence speed of data transfer, offered by such systems increasing from 1MHz to 700MHz within only a few years. This has further developed, with products offering a 1GHz bandwidth now on the market. International standards bodies have established gradings for the systems. Entitled ‘Categories', these establish factors such as the materials, connectors and junction boxes that should be used to meet a certain grading, as well as the bandwidth expected.

System selection

There are two main parts to structured cabling systems: the backbone that is used to interconnect communications rooms throughout a building; plus the horizontal, which delivers the services directly to the user. The two systems are complementary and are sized according to the building type and use.
"Backbone cables can be of two types: Category 3 for basic services such as telephones and alarms; and fibre for higher bandwidth applications such as data and tv," explains Humbert. "The great majority of horizontal cabling (currently being installed) is unshielded twisted pair (UTP)," he adds.

The type of system needed in a building is determined by the business to be carried out and the potential need for future expansions. Some firms opt for a higher Category, hence bandwidth, to future-proof their buildings and avoid additional costs at a later stage. "Some [firms] are looking at short-term business and in that case they are not looking at future-proofing [the cabling infrastructure], but for some corporations that will be here for many years, their challenge is to select the right cables not only for today but also for five or ten years from now," explains Laurent Amestoy, regional md, ME and India with Swiss-based Reichle & De-Massari (R&M). "When you have to change the active equipment it's easy because you only have to unplug and replug the new ones. But when you have to change the cables and all the sockets it creates a lot of disturbance, so the [initial] choice is critical," he stresses.
 

Category choices

For the horizontal cabling, currently products that are approved to Categories 5E, 6, 6E and 7 are becoming the most widely installed worldwide. For new building projects in the Middle East, generally the higher Category systems are being selected. "The wide majority of projects have adopted Category 6 as the minimum requirement," states Humbert, "Category 5E is now considered obsolete in this region, which places the Middle East as one of the most advanced regions in the world when it comes to structured cabling." "The most widely used type is still Category 6 unshielded cabling," adds Amestoy, "but we have noticed recently more and more demand for shielded products."

The use of the most advanced system - Category 7 - is reportedly also making a significant impact in the local market. R&M reports a doubling in demand for 10 Gigabit Ethernet over the past year. "In the high-end market where long-term investment is needed, people are start to talk about Category 7 as well as Category 6 10G or Category 6A," explains Tarek Helmy, regional director Gulf & Middle East, Nexans Cabling Solution. Candidates for this form of system include banks, data centres, government authorities and the oil and gas sector; the latest installations in residential properties are generally to Category 6.

"Three years ago I was putting zero in my budget for Category 7, but now [this market] is growing dramatically," stresses Helmy. Nexans has completed several Category 7 infrastructure systems within the region. These include the Etisalat building on Shiekh Zayed Road, which includes around 15,000 connectors and 380km of Category 7 cable; and regional offices for the National Commercial Bank in Riyadh and Jeddah, which had 6,000 and 7,000 outlets.

The reason for this change is the continuing development of high-speed data systems and standards, plus rapidly growing data volume due to the trend towards Internet-based applications. Despite the increasing capabilities of the copper systems, fibre-based cabling will remain. "Price-wise and for the installation and maintenance in the future operations [copper cabling] is definitely more preferable than fibre," states Helmy, "but fibre has a lot of added value that copper can't provide, for example copper cabling is always limited to 90m, whereas in fibre you don't have the same problem. Also, if you need to run 10-15 lengths of copper you need a bigger containment system than when running a single fibre cable that has 16 cores," he explains.

Installation issues

The installation of these new cable systems requires special care. They cannot simply be pulled into a building in the same manner as power cables and other considerations include the bend radii and termination procedures. A lack of knowledge of the specifics of the systems can result in wrong installation, the destruction of the sensitive equipment and wrong testing procedures being used.

"Structured cabling must never be installed by anyone unless they have been properly trained; training is mandatory for these systems," stresses Humbert. "Most people, for example, are not aware that the maximum pulling tension of Category 6 cables is only 110N, approximately 10kg."

"To pull an electrical cable is very different to pulling a data cable," adds Amestoy, "The problem is it doesn't [visually] break, so you can do the whole installation and not notice anything is wrong then when you do the testing you realise that it doesn't work. This is very different [to power cabling] and the people who have tried to install systems without training have failed."
 

A successful voice and data cabling is dependent on the entire construction process, from design to installation. "It also involves the design side, because you have to make sure that the ducts are big enough," explains Amestoy. "The last thing you want is for this cable to be too tightly packed," he adds.

To overcome any potential installation issues, the top structured cabling manufacturers work solely with preferred contractors and integrators. All have systems integrators throughout the region and Nexans, for example, has systems integrators in every country in the Middle East. This is essential to enable growth of a worldwide business stresses Helmy: "The trend is to have global key account management. [Multi-national firms] love to use companies that have an existence everywhere because they know the quality, however you may have a very good product but when it comes to local support level people may think twice if you don't have local partner or certified trained people in that part of the world."

To ensure the installation quality is maintained, the manufacturers generally provide training also. R&M has taken this a step further and recently launched its first R&M Academy outside of Switzerland in the UAE. This will provide training to its clients and partners.

The future of cabling

Manufacturers are continually developing their products to meet market demands. In September R&M introduced the FM45, an eight-wire, RJ45 connector that can be assembled on site and installed without tools. The product supports transmission performances up to Gigabit Ethernet in networks and is suitable for use in applications including structured building cabling, company networks, Industrial Ethernet and home wiring.

Nexans also launched a new offering in September: the GG45 eight-contact jack is a high-speed Category 7A jack intended for high-speed data transmission applications. The right angle female connector can be mounted on printed circuit boards(pcb). It is the same size as the widely used RJ45 jack, enabling the re-use of existing housings and pcb; and can give a specified performance of up to 1500MHz.

Ortronics offers a full range of structured cabling solutions including end-to-end UTP and shielded copper systems for Categories 5E, 6 and 6A; end-to-end fibre systems; cabinets and racks. Its products have been used in several applications throughout the region including Avenues Shopping Mall in Kuwait, which was installed by Bader Al Mulla Infotech Solutions; and the American Hospital of Dubai, where installation was completed by Syscom Emirates.

 

Case study: structured cabling in practice

The installation of one of the world's largest iPatch real-time infrastructure management systems is underway at the King Abdul Aziz Endowment Project currently under construction in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Systimax Solutions is providing products for the project through its Saudi-based certified business partner, Hasoub. Around 350km of single mode fibre optic cable, 25,000 reels of UTP cabling in 18 different colours, 4,000 patch panels, 100,000 UTP outlets and 15,000 fibre terminations will be used.

Hasoub general manager Sami Said Hassan explains: "Our goal was to design and implement a single, IP-based cabling infrastructure to support the entire voice and data network. We also plan to integrate total building management functionality incorporating elements such as security access, environmental and hvac systems as well as traditional services such as telephony and Internet connections."

"Traditionally ten or more separate systems would be used to deliver various services, but we plan to use just one," adds Amr Taher, president of BT-Applied Technologies, the project's technology consultant. "We are building what we believe is the biggest and most sophisticated converged network the Middle East has ever seen, which makes the structured cabling component of the development critical to the success of the project."

The development includes a main 13-story building and seven towers ranging from 40-100 storeys, one of which is the world's fourth largest building currently under construction, at 531m high. The project includes a mix of retail, residential and hotels and is scheduled for completion in 2010.

The final infrastructure system will be a predominantly fibre optic-based network, with the buildings connected by a dual fibre optic loop through two network operating centres located in the main building. A copper network that is based on the Systimax GigaSPEED XL Category 6 copper UTP cabling solution is designed to provide over 100,000 high-speed connections across the project.
 

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