How important are information transport systems skills for the data-communications contractor?

Being a professional data-communications (or low-voltage) contractor includes many components. Some refer to the field as information transport systems (ITS), because the skills include basic installation and testing of cables, planning and managing projects, and a working knowledge of current technology.

“The presence or absence of ITS training on a contractor’s resume is less important to JP Morgan Chase than proper manufacturer certifications and a record of installation excellence,” said Steve Huffaker, RCDD and network engineer for JP Morgan Chase’s Corporate Infrastructure Division. “While ITS training may lead to the qualifications that we seek, it is not a resume item that we look for.”

Here is a breakdown of contractor skills that range from basic installation through the ability to integrate today’s technologies.

The professional ITS contractor

If you are installing local area networks (LANs) for a customer’s business or home, there are a few questions to ask yourself about your own skills. Are you fully familiar with local safety codes? Do you have an excellent installation background? Do you have a working knowledge of the performance standards for cable and hardware provided by the only industry group in this field, the Telecom Industry Association (TIA)? Have you surveyed the site? Can you provide turnkey service? Can you, or someone you work with, support the customer with ongoing support (moves, adds, changes and active testing and certification) for their network?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, you are a professional in the ITS field who can support your customer through the end of their project.

“Basic installation training covers the mechanics of cable routing, pulling, and termination. It is the minimum requirement for proper installation of modern cabling systems,” said Les Baxter, Baxter Enterprises. “ITS training provides more depth about the types of signals and applications which will be supported by the cabling systems. Technicians with ITS training will understand the characteristics and limitations of Ethernet, FireWire, video, analog voice and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) signals. With this additional knowledge about networks, technicians will be much less likely to inadvertently create impairments which could impact the performance of modern high-speed applications.”

Basic installation skills

Basic skills for the installer include installation, termination, documentation and basic cable (passive) testing. Some refer to this as having the skills of an information transport systems technician. This is now a Standard Occupation Code (SOC) developed by the Department of Labor. SOC Code 49-2022.03 covers communications equipment mechanics, installers and repairers. The type of work they do is install systems and the infrastructure that moves information within the building. It can be audio, video, voice, data, electronic safety/security, environmental/building controls information—today they can be linked to an IP address.

The ITS+ contractor

There is an additional quality that needs to be factored into the description of a professional ITS contractor—i.e., their focus on the customer’s goals. Contractor must take an interest in the customer’s core business and be able to broaden their scope so they increase the value of their relationship to the customer. Once a relationship exists, trust can be established, and you come to a customer’s mind when future work is planned.

The cabling and wiring infrastructure that may be installed is only a subset of the technology infrastructure that the customer wants. In order to go beyond installation skills, an example of a valued-added offering that could enhance your business includes strategic wireless local area network (WLAN) deployment. The advantage here is to the customer/user because it provides anytime/anywhere access to mission-critical information and applications.

Electrical contractors working in low-voltage communications receive training in installation of underground voice/data circuit feeders, pathways and spaces for low voltage wiring; LAN cabling systems; security and access control systems; and communications and sound distribution systems. In addition training includes connections to the grounding electrode system; testing and certifying LAN cabling systems; prefabricating systems such as telecommunications racks; testing and repair of video, voice and data systems; including devices such as gateways, routers, hubs, NIC cards, telephone switches, etc.; and other work on subsystems such as entertainment, environmental, life safety, energy management, and custom lighting. For the residence, electrical contractors also install sound and cable TV distribution systems and work on residential subsystems such as heating/air conditioning, photovoltaic generation and energy management systems.

Integration of technology skills

The ability to integrate new technologies with what the customer already has is the next level of skill needed and applies to all levels of the network in the commercial business or in the home.

This is where the contractor needs to understand the types of signals and applications that will be supported by the cabling system they installed. Knowing how to work with what they already have and what they should upgrade to—to get what they want—will gain respect for any contractor.

Some other skills the customer will appreciate involve consultation, design, project management, site audits, maintenance plans and asset-management services.

High-level skills

These skills can involve the design and installation of wide area networks (WANs), virtual private networks (VPNs), firewalls and LAN security as well as certifications from Microsoft, CISCO, HP and other software training/certificates.

Here is a brief overview of some technologies and/or strategies that could benefit your customer’s goals.

Ethernet

Ethernet is the most widely installed local area network technology. Specified in a standard, IEEE 802.3, Ethernet was originally developed by Xerox and then developed further by Xerox, Digital Equipment Company (DEC) and Intel. An Ethernet LAN typically uses coax cable or special grades of twisted-pair wires.

The most commonly installed Ethernet systems are called 10BASE-T with transmission speeds up to 10 Mbps. Devices are connected to the cable and compete for access using a Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection (CSMA/CD) protocol.

FireWire

FireWire, originally developed by Apple, is a very fast external bus standard for wires through which data is transmitted from one part of a computer to another. It supports data transfer rates, usually measured in megabits or megabytes per second up to 400 Mbps (1394a) and 800 Mbps (1394b). In addition, 1394c is now under development as a way for that protocol to run on an Ethernet PHY.

VoIP

VoIP is voice delivered over the Internet. In general, this is sending voice information in digital form using discrete packets, rather than in the traditional circuit-related protocols of the public switched telephone network (PSTN). A major advantage is that it avoids the tolls charged by ordinary telephone service. When a company uses VoIP, it works with a VoIP device at their gateway. In homes, the gateway is the Internet service provider (ISP) used that connects the user to the Internet.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is an open specification for wireless short-range communications of data and voice between both mobile and stationary devices. It specifies how mobile phones, computers or personal digital assistants (PDAs) interconnect with each other, computers and office or home phones.

Ten-gigabit Ethernet

Ten-gigabit Ethernet (10GBASE-T), standardized in IEEE 802.3ae for fiber—and currently being standardized in 802.3an for copper—is a technology that offers data speeds up to 10 billion bits per second. Ten-gigabit Ethernet moves data on backbone cabling connections between networks and is expected to be used to interconnect local area networks, wide area networks (WANs) and metropolitan area networks (MANs).

On multimode fiber, 10-gigabit Ethernet will support distances up to 300 meters; on single-mode fiber, it will support distances up to 40 kilometers. On copper, it is now being developed to support a full 100-meter horizontal distance.

In summary

Technologies are moving fast and customers are looking for contractors who understand the basic rules of installation, the impact they have on the performance of a customer’s network and applications, and are certified on the hardware provided by that manufacturer. The work is competitive and the contractor’s edge can be found in having the appropriate certifications and a broad vision of their overall skills.

The customer wants to go beyond the basics and find a solution that meets their goals. Benefits to the customer are important. You can give them those benefits from the long quality service they will receive from your installed network, your supporting expertise and the knowledge that the hardware they are buying will be supported by manufacturer warranties because you are certified on that system. 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.