It’s the information transport systems or cabling that makes data, voice and video come to life.

Throw it in and go is not an option. Everything must be planned and tailored to the application and that goes for the type of wire and cable deployed. In fact, with so many different wire and cable products on the market, it is even more critical to find the right one for the facility now and as it grows in the future.

Manufacturers are here to help. They provide training and support teams and information to help the electrical contractor find the right product. Many have in-house systems designers who can assist. All you have to do is ask.

For power, traditional pipe and wire or armored cabling may be used solely or in concert with each other. Structured wiring such as Category 5, 6 or higher may be the way to go for many applications. In code situations for fire alarm systems signaling and notification appliances, circuit integrity (CI) designated cabling may be the mandate. Limited combustible designated cable is another option for intensive data installations where space is at a premium and long-term fire concerns exist.

In applications with video, coaxial cable, fiber optics or unshielded twisted pair may hold the key to an interference- free installation. Ethernet, audio, video, security and building automation functions may also be well served on UTP, the darling of the industry and a fast growing cabling segment.

Cabling and integrated building systems are technology driven. There are more devices deployed on cabling and greater system sensitivities with which to contend. Devices share cabling, and power is critical to the overall integrity. Power must be regulated, clean and adapted specifically to the device or devices that will be deployed on it. Escalating wire and cable costs are also part of the “state of the industry” and will continue in the spotlight as copper, metals and other material prices soar to their highest levels. On the up side, manufacturers continue to focus on labor savings and cabling, which reduces installation time or the amount of wire and cable used overall.

Hot trends

Saving on the amount of materials used and in the time it takes to install is critical to any type of wiring. The fire alarm industry continues to turn out wiring innovations with labor savings in mind.

“Technology and its applicability to the cabling industry continues to advance,” said Jim Kimpel, product manager, Gamewell-FCI, a Honeywell Co., Westwood, Mass. “In the life safety industry, survivability from attack by fire is key and mandated in buildings that use partial evacuation or relocation.”

The company recently introduced an expandable emergency evacuation system deployed over two wires or fiber optic cables, offering significant savings in material and labor/installation costs. Using a building-block approach, these fire alarm control panels can be configured from a simple, stand-alone panel into a mass notification system—on two wires.

According to Gene Pecora, general manager, Honeywell Power Products, Northford, Conn., another cabling trend, especially with video, is the migration from coaxial to Category 5 structured cabling.

“There’s increased installation flexibility in running Cat 5,” Pecora said, “and you can also combine power, data and video. We’re all learning from the computer industry. Digitization of video will continue to have an effect on the use of cabling.”

Manufacturers have also shared that there is an uptick in the use of armored cable products over traditional pipe and wire, although both will continue to live in harmony, according to one source who asked not to be named. Part of that shift can be attributed to the end-user, whose eyes are on the labor-savings involved with armored cable products, the source said.

Code compliance

As always, codes drive the marketplace. Jurisdictions may now follow the latest National Electrical Code (NEC) and require the removal of abandoned cable. Removal of abandoned cable was required by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70, NEC 2002. Many areas of the country have adopted the provisions of the NEC code 2002 that require its removal (see Article 800 “Communications Circuits”).

Cable management also continues to gain speed, not only because of NEC changes and regulations with regards to abandoned cable, but because of an increased awareness of the performance of information transport systems as it relates to the installation.

Recent code changes continue to make circuit integrity (CI) cable a viable part of the market. CI cable can withstand the well-known and often-quoted “two-hour” burn test, covered under Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Standard 2196 and it is also meets NFPA codes and NEC requirements.

“We see strong demand for CI cabling from the end-user and we will continue to educate the market about its advantages,” said Juan Gudino, market manager Security & Fiber, Belden CDT, Richmond, Ind. “We’ve held dozens of road shows to educate the AHJ [authority having jurisdiction], the installer and the end-user.” Gudino said the fire marshal and electrical inspector continue to respond positively to the pluses of CI cabling.

CI history

NFPA 101 and many local building codes mandate emergency voice/alarm communications (EVAC) systems where immediate evacuation of the entire site is impractical—like high-rises and large campuses. EVAC systems must provide a live or recorded audio/voice instruction to building occupants, alerting them of a specific emergency and directing them out of the building or to another area.

This system must remain operational longer than a total evacuation scenario, or as defined by code, for two hours. Gudino said some AHJs or Code bodies are working off an earlier version of the Code, and the CI provision was ratified in 2002 and placed in the 2005 version of NFPA 101.

Cables designated by the NEC as CI are riser-rated, which means they can be installed vertically within the building and withstand direct flame contact. Cables designed as CIC may be installed in the area above the ceiling, but they must be contained within conduit.

CI cables cannot be deployed in conduit and still maintain their two-hour rating. Gudino added that limited combustible cable, although not mandated by Code, is still a great solution for data centers or other areas where there is susceptibility to equipment damage from melting cable jacket materials.

Trends and forecasts

Communications and tele-data wiring has exploded, and with it has come the emphasis on zone cabling (see “In the Zone,” Electrical contractor Oct. 2005, page 150). This type of physical wiring configuration uses star-wiring for labor and equipment changes and accommodates the appetite of the end-users for newer and more telecom technology. It also handles moves, adds and changes efficiently.

In the wire and cabling industry, everything seems to be operating under some type of hardware and software “ripple effect.” With zone cabling comes the move to telecommunications enclosures (TE) instead of additional telecommunications rooms (TR), extending backbone cabling closer to the work areas and clusters.

Active zone cabling is on the upswing in part because of its advantages, but also due to new standards. Last year, the Telecommunications Industry Association approved publication TIA/EIA-568B.1-5 as an addendum to the Commercial Building Telecommunications Cabling Standard that recognized active zone cabling. In essence, the standard permits the installation of a TE instead of a TR in some applications, which streamlines the installation and reduces labor and equipment costs.

Labor savings is critical to the wire and cable industry. Products that can be easily deployed, split, connected, etc., are sure to win over the contractor community.

It’s not “easy living” by any means in the cabling industry. Manufacturers and distributors have been contending with continued consolidation among suppliers; new codes, rules and regulations; and escalating material costs. There is a bright side—they know they can provide the connectivity solutions the market needs as they, too, set their sights on convergence and integration. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.