This, as the first of a three-part series, is an overview of why traditional bidding methods don't apply for bidding telecommunications cabling systems.

Telecommunications cabling is a multi-billion dollar uncontrolled and confusing industry. However, it offers many rewards to its participants.

Electrical contractors must understand that bidding telecommunications cabling systems can be puzzling and frustrating. If it were easy to do, there would be many software programs to assist with this type of bidding.

Traditional methods for estimating projects work in all trades but telecommunications cabling. Some reasons for these phenomena include manufacturer-specific solutions, non-traditional designs, and no controlling authorities.

One of the major obstacles associated with telecommunications cabling is that manufacturers market their products as a single-source system. They offer certification programs with a warranty that is only valid when installed by one of their certified contractors.

The first thing you must do when reviewing a bid package is check to see if a vendor certification is required for the project. Remember that a certified installer does not have to possess a valid contractor's license. These certification programs are marketing tools used to specifically lock the contractor and customer to a particular manufacturer's product line.

Vendor-specific solutions are the norm for telecommunications cabling bids. To bid on these projects, particular manufacturers must certify you. Vendor-specific certification is sometimes used to prevent other bidders from responding to the bid or assigning territories to particular contractors. So, if you are not certified by a particular manufacturer, you should contact that vendor to inquire about their certification requirements.

Another concern with vendor-specific solutions is that the bids concentrate on a specific telecommunications connectivity product line, omitting many other items, such as pathways, firestopping, power quality, etc., from the specification. This leads to both technical and contract problems as the project progresses. Therefore, bid packages should be thoroughly reviewed before you submit the bid.

It is a good strategy to note the omissions from the design package. It is critical to verify that any of these items is missing from the bid to see if others are doing them prior to submitting your response. These omitted items are an excellent opportunity for extras and can be used to demonstrate your expertise in installation to the building owner. This opportunity may give you the edge to win a bid that may have otherwise been lost.

The quality of telecommunications bid specifications runs the gamut from excellent to horrible. Most telecommunications bids are not done with a division as typical electrical projects are. Consultants and owners, with a manufacturer's support, typically do them.

When reviewing a telecommunications cabling bid, you must remember that they are intended for low-voltage contractors. This often makes responding to the bid difficult, because they typically do not follow standard construction practices and often have inaccurate drawings, or none at all. To address this problem, a new construction division (Division 17) is being advocated to address telecommunications (low-voltage systems).

Another factor that heavily influences telecommunications cabling bids in many areas is the absence of controlling authorities that issue permits and inspect completed projects. In areas that do not have controlling authorities for telecommunications cabling, many items and practices are overlooked. This is used to some bidders' advantage. Hopefully this will change, and telecommunications cabling will be acknowledged as a recognized construction trade in these localities. This will put everyone on a level playing field when responding to telecommunications cabling bids.

The second part of this three-part series, to run as the July State-of-the-Art column, will cover the nuts and bolts of responding to telecommunications bids.

SCHECKLER is a teacher, trainer, and estimator who specializes in VDV bidding and estimating. He can be reached at (760) 754-9129 or pkat@aol.com.