Many technologies changed or developed in 2005 and will continue to develop through 2006. A company’s infrastructure, software, security and communication methods depend on a professionally installed and managed bottom layer of the contractor technology ladder (CTL). The CTL is an illustrated way of dividing the industry into areas of opportunity.

Those point to business opportunities and “to expand or not” decisions. When a contractor works at the base of this ladder, he is setting all other processes in motion just by designing and installing a fully operational network while enabling the other rungs to perform successfully.

From a contractor’s standpoint, there are five main areas that change: physical technologies, communications methods, security methods, software and infrastructure. One builds on the other, but three—physical technologies, communication and security methods—of the five areas involve the contractor, designer, installer or consultant. This article looks at these three areas, showing some of the technologies that have advanced in 2005 and will continue into 2006. Along with the technology description, you will be able to see where work opportunities fall.

Physical technologies

Here are some of the physical layer technologies to focus on that will be more in demand over the next year.

Ten gigabit Ethernet

Ten gigabit Ethernet is a telecom technology that handles data speeds up to 10 billion bits per second (bps). It is based on the Ethernet technology and can work over fiber and certain grades of copper or coax cabling. It is a very efficient and inexpensive approach to moving data on backbone connections (between networks) that is consistent from a network’s beginning to end.

The market for 10 gigabit Ethernet hardware is predicted to double by 2010, which means that the technology will be similar to a commodity in the future (just like other recent technologies have become). Therefore, contracts for installation of wiring/cabling for this level of communications will continue.

Augmented Category 6 copper cabling

The latest advancement in copper cabling is still under development as augmented Category (Cat) 6 cabling with a performance goal of handling 10 gigabit Ethernet transmissions for a full 100 meters. Other category cabling can transmit 10 gig for less than 100 meters, which is acceptable to many.

This is often perplexing. Anyone working in this field will have to decide among manufacturers of Cat 5e, Cat 6 cables, augmented Cat 6 cables and associated hardware, depending on the level of performance required. The jury is still out as to which will be most widely used.

Class F copper cabling

Class F cabling is specifically an internationally standardized type of cable and hardware. The cable itself is shielded and has an overall shielding. The point of this cabling is that with all its shielding, it functions better than any unshielded twisted pair (UTP) to date. As an example, each pair within the cable can run its own application without disruption to other pairs inside the same cable. Applications examples are for Internet protocol (IP) video (teleconferencing and telelearning), video on demand, building automation systems, or surveillance. The drawbacks are its cost, that it uses a different interface, and that the cable has a larger diameter to work with for installation and termination.

Broadband over power lines (BPL)

BPL uses the power grid infrastructure and inside wire, so power lines have to serve two purposes, without causing any interference. When a BPL modem is plugged into an electrical wall socket and sends data over a city’s electrical wires, with some configurations, Internet traffic can interfere with other signals.

This is another technology that the verdict is not yet in on. It could be extremely successful in remote areas where there is no Internet access via cabling or fiber, but recommending or specifying this technology depends on if it gets acceptance in the industry, devices become interoperable, providers design their equipment not to interfere with radio frequencies used by amateur ratio operators, and it will perform error-free.

Plastic optical fiber

Plastic optical fiber (POF) typically uses a general-purpose resin as the core material, and fluorinated polymers for the cladding. In large-diameter fibers, 96 percent of the cross section is the core that allows the transmission of light. Due to this large diameter, transmission is possible even if the ends of the fiber are slightly soiled or damaged.

POF has been called the “consumer” optical fiber. This is due to its low cost. POF is also only effective for short distance transmission because there is a large transmission loss. Because of this limitation, some applications that a contractor might consider POF for are digital home appliance interfaces, home networks and car networks.

Communications methods

Here are some of the communication methods to focus on that will be coming into more demand over the next year:

Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP)

This is the technology used to transmit voice conversations over a data network, using the Internet protocol. The data network can be the Internet or a corporate Intranet. For a residential, corporate or small business user, or even for a teleworker, the technology can be used to save money on phone calls when using a regular phone or a personal computer.

This communications method is being perfected to enhance the user’s experience. There have been challenges with quality and security is a big concern yet. Watch for improvements in service and features to decide if this technology is suited for your client. Its use will expand and its convenience and quality will influence your decision.

Power over Ethernet (PoE)

This is where electrical power travels over Ethernet cables. On the plus side, this avoids a separate power cord for things like Internet phones and wireless access points. Power is injected into an Ethernet cable at the source and is “picked” off at the destination. Already, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) is looking at ways to increase the power these cables can carry, which is currently 48 volts over a cable under IEEE 802.3af. Its latest work (PoE Plus) is looking to increase the power carrying capability, but is not finalized yet.

Opportunities will exist for PoE for designers, installers and contractors to include PoE equipment in the network. Currently, PoE products include wireless LAN access points and bridges, Wi-Fi amplifiers and amplified antennas, VoIP telephones, IP surveillance cameras, Bluetooth-enabled access points, and Web cameras.

Wireless LANs

These LANs conveniently supplement wired LANs. They consist of an access point, which emits radio signals, and serves a finite number of users, depending on their activities and location. Users in the office are usually stationary or moving at walking speeds, while wide area networks support users moving at highway speeds.

Some applications are for the classroom; others are for sales/marketing personnel while on the road and, more commonly, they are used within a commercial building to extend communications. Other applications cover Web browsers, e-mail clients and file transfers. It is also possible to use a WLAN for carrying telephone traffic from mobile users. As you can see, the direction is to work toward converged voice and data services. Here again, the contractor can watch the progress over the next year, and decide how and if it could benefit a client.

Security methods for wireless LANs

What follows are some of the security methods to focus on that will be more in demand over the next year.

Wi-Fi WEP and WPA

Wired equivalency privacy (WEP) is a security protocol for Wi-Fi networks. This can be turned off in many cases by default without users realizing they have lost that protection and that they need to turn it back on.

Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) is the new security standard adopted by the Wi-Fi Alliance, a group that ensures equipment interoperability. This security is much stronger than WEP and still allows compatibility and upgrades with older equipment.

Still, another security system has been designed from the ground up (IEEE 802.11i), known as WPA2. This is the security method that uses advanced encryption standard (AES) encryption for messages and is the strongest security system for wireless networks. Look for this level of security in equipment and, throughout 2006, watch for more security improvements to benefit your clients.

Biometrics

Use of biometrics technology is when physical characteristics, like your fingerprint or iris, are used to identify you. This is often felt to be safer and more secure than keys or passwords.

This type of security system is highly desirable and has an important future. It has also been looked at to scan documents (like birth certificates and Social Security cards) and store them in biometrically secured flash memory in the event of a national emergency. Other new biometric technologies might be methods that use DNA, more accurate home-use systems, frequent buyer programs with biometric security, or biometric systems in place of passports at border crossings and airports.

Important changes from 2005 to 2006

With a look at the high-level technologies existing or being developed, it is clear that the areas of opportunities for contractors that are in the lower rungs of the CTL support the high rungs or high-level technologies.

It is possible that these and other higher-level technologies will be mature enough to be profitable in the coming year. That means that they should be on your list of technologies to get familiar with or experience in, in the next year, if you haven’t already. EC

MICHELSON, president of Jackson, Calif.-based Business Communication Services and publisher of the BCS Reports, is an expert in TIA/EIA performance standards. Contact her at www.bcsreports.com or randm@volcano.net.