For the most part, telecommunications cabling contractors weren’t concerned about the threat presented by early wireless networking technology. Most reasoned that even wireless access points need cable. But as wireless technology continues to ramp up—some believe we are still in the early days of wireless—it is useful to once again ask what sort of threat wireless technology presents to telecommunications cable contracting.

Greater speed and range

Some wireless technology manufacturers would have us believe the future is bleak for extensive cable networks in new construction. For example, Aruba Networks Inc. focuses attention on enterprise wireless solutions that it says enable “all-wireless workplaces.”

A recent Microsoft study found 75 percent of the software giant’s employees use wireless local area networks (LANs) every day, and 72 percent said they could work without any wires at all. According to the study, wireless LAN enables 93 percent of Microsoft’s users to use their computers in new locations, and 70 percent of its employees said the increased flexibility saves them at least five work hours per week.

“Because of large user adoption of wireless connectivity, it is not difficult to envision a time when we transition to an all-wireless workplace,” said Victoria Poncini, Microsoft’s network architect.

Her comments raised the question of how much cable an all-wireless workplace would require.

“The number of cabled wireless access points in a wireless LAN depends on the application,” said Michael Tennefoss of Aruba Networks. “If the user does not have intensive data applications, cabling might be limited to the core of an enterprise network. In this case, the cabling in the building’s riser would terminate at a small number of wireless access points on each floor.

“Thereafter, the signal would be distributed by radio via secure mesh technology to other access points located throughout each floor. Those additional access points would require electrical power but not data cabling,” Tennefoss said. He also said data-intensive applications would need cabling to every access point to deliver adequate throughput.

Other interpretations

According to Jeff Davis, wireless products manager at Ortronics/Legrand, wireless technology use is on the rise, resulting perhaps in a short-term drop in cable installations, but he does not see cabled networks going away.

“In the short run, I see fewer drops going to each desk, but I also see more wireless devices needing cable, including wireless access points, sensors and [radio-frequency identification devices],” he said. “But all of those products need effective integration, and that may be a future opportunity for cabling contractors.”

Davis also said one wireless device typically supports about 10 users, while in comparison, a traditional workstation desktop has been wired with two to four jacks. Therefore, it is both logical and likely that the growth of wireless networks will ultimately impact the number of network jacks installed in a construction project.

But another element, said Chuck Lukaszewski, Aruba Networks’ director of professional services, is that there has recently been a change in typical wireless access point densities.

“In previous wireless models, it was common to have one wireless access point every 15,000 to 20,000 square feet in office areas and maybe half that in warehouse areas. But now, with changes in wireless technology and lower price points, it is common to have one access point every 2,500 to 5,000 square feet in carpeted areas, which means a lot more cabling for wireless networks than in the past,” Lukaszewski said.

In addition, there are applications in which wireless only increases the amount of cabling in a facility. For example, in modern hotels, it is now simply bad customer service if rooms do not have one or more computer network jacks. Guests also want wireless in meeting rooms, public spaces and maybe in their guest rooms, too, so they can use their computers anywhere.

Similarly, state-of-the-art hospitals need computer network jacks in each patient room, examining area and ancillary department. Healthcare facilities also need cables for wireless access points throughout the hospital for roaming physicians or visiting family members, including areas that would not traditionally have been installed with network jacks, such as food service, waiting and maintenance areas.

Running a business has never been easy. There have always been risks and reasons to worry about keeping it going. But new technologies typically bring new business opportunities. Cabling contractors may need to evolve their businesses to include wireless as that technology grows, but that does not mean cablers’ opportunities are going away. As in any free market system, those businesses that are efficient, nimble and capable of change stand a good chance to both survive and profit.

MUNYAN is a freelance writer in the Kansas City, Kan., area, specializing in business writing and telecommunications. He can be reached at www.russwrites.com.