Recent events have lead me to carefully consider the meaning of standards. I spent more than a dozen hours helping an end-user and a cabling contractor understand what TIA-568 required (and/or allowed) for fiber optic testing. Neither could justify buying the standards documents for about $1,000 when they needed to know what only a few paragraphs said. However, the end-user, who required testing to the standards in their contract, did not understand what that actually meant, and the contractor did not have documentation to back up their assumptions. Sending them a copy of the NECA/FOA-301 fiber optic installation standard, which covered exactly what they needed to know, solved the documentation issue.

In addition, I was revising our premises cabling book “Data Voice and Video Cabling” with my co-author, and we had to decide how to handle the current revisions of the TIA-568 premises cabling standard. These revisions, to be published as TIA-568C, will be expanded to four parts from three and each section published as completed, not as one single document. This creates a nightmare for authors: How can you cover a document in process in a book that will be on the shelves for four years or more?

As a participant in the TIA standards activities since 1983, I am familiar with the process and know how unpredictable the development of standards can be. As an author, I endure the frustration of being unable to provide the meaning of the current standards, a topic I ended up discussing with others I work with in the standards committees.

Few end-users refer to the TIA-568 standards documents themselves, since they mostly cover component specifications that are needed to ensure interoperability in cabling systems. As a friend who headed a standards committee once said, these standards are “mutually agreed upon specifications for product development.” Even the very wording of these standards include nuances that only the standards writers from the manufacturers represented in the meetings often understand: the subtle differences between “shall” and “should,” the options available to those who have spent many days sitting in committee meetings filled with detailed technical presentations—to produce products compliant to or, preferably, better than the standards for competitive markets.

The job of interpreting the TIA-568 standards for end-users and installers falls to the manufacturers who write the standards and build products to meet those standards. It also is the responsibility of writers and trainers, such as BICSI, to provide the information to end-users and installers in a comprehensible fashion.

The manufacturers who wrote the TIA-568 standards and build products that comply with them are only too happy to educate you and your customers. Every structured cabling manufacturer has a section in its catalog or on its Web site that explains the relevant standards in simple words and clear pictures that you can actually understand. They tell you what systems should look like, which components are used to build them and how they should be tested and documented. Take advantage of these companies. They want you to. That’s why they attend those boring standards meetings and wrote all those catalog pages, hoping you will come to them for education—and products.

But some standards are written for installers and end-users and require your attention. The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) National Electrical Installation Standards (NEIS), for example, are written specifically for contractors and installers. When the Fiber Optic Association (FOA) partnered with NECA to produce the NECA/FOA-301 standard for the installation of fiber optics, the notion was to put on paper the general requirements for all fiber optic cable plant installations in a format that could be easily understood and followed by every contractor. Some contractors keep a copy of NECA/FOA-301 available for reference on every fiber optic installation project.

While updating our structured cabling textbook, we had originally intended to add more pages explaining the TIA-568 standards, including all the latest revisions as of the publication date. Instead, we decided to include an overview of the TIA-568 standards and send readers to manufacturers, trainers and Web sites (e.g., FOA Tech Topics, www.thefoa.org/tech/) to get more current information. We’ll use that page space to cover new applications, such as residential and industrial structured cabling, more detailed installation processes and new technologies that use structured cabling systems. And we have already planned a revision of the NECA/FOA-301 standard to include the latest technologies and components in fiber optics. Watch for it! EC

HAYES is a VDV writer and trainer and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at www.JimHayes.com.