System compatibility is not only a growing trend, it also seems to be an unmistakable necessity. This term appears to be evolving from an industry “buzzword” to a way of life for contractors. It is essential that electrical contractors be well versed in all disciplines of communications, so that they may offer compatibility guarantees to their clients, since this topic seems to be at the top of everyone’s requirement list.

System compatibility generally refers to the voice, data, and visual communication systems’ ability to work at peak performance at once. Depending upon the sophistication and extent of the systems, wireless systems in use may also be included in the compatibility issue. While wireless solutions seem to be less of an issue, they could raise their own compatibility issues in the near future.

It is often difficult to work with technology buyers when you come from an electrical system-based background. Within the electrical field, there are few concerns about whether or not systems can operate together both efficiently and effectively. This is not true within communications, where it is essential that systems operate seamlessly and simultaneously. Communications systems are completely dependent upon reliability issues.

Being able to assess the compatibility of the proposed systems is essential. This type of knowledge and understanding should ultimately take place long before any attempts are made at design or installation. Sometimes just evaluating products and their associated benefits can put contractors one step ahead in the game.

Today’s hot topic seems to be converged network systems. Converged systems are purported to provide effortless acceptance of all related systems within a network, which means that all associated voice/data/video applications can operate harmoniously.

This all helps to explain why one of the most influential reasons behind the acceptance and availability of converged systems is that they are inherently designed to offer the added benefit of essentially built-in compatibility measures. Along these same lines of reasoning, the issue of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) often deserves more credit than it has historically received.

The VoIP solution, in theory, allows both traditional and more advanced digital systems to operate in an integrated fashion by using a standardized data networking protocol. This is considered a more optimal solution than many current voice systems in place. Many facilities essentially operate from the same copper cable that was laid roughly a century ago. Considering the sheer magnanimity of the technological advances over the past 15 years, it is amazing that we have operated so efficiently while continuing to use such old cable as the backbone of the whole process.

Many compatibility issues come into play when enhanced voice systems (such as large-scale telephone switches) are installed in facilities where antiquated data systems are in use, and vice versa. Take for example a growing operation that has desktop PCs linked to the main network server via Category 3 cable, which probably was installed a few decades ago. The PCs are attempting to communicate with a new telephone system that operates at a faster speed than the network itself. This type of situation leads to greater lag time, slower connections, and jumbled signals. All of this generally points to factors that teach us that enhanced communications all need to be operating from the same-generation hardware and software.

As the various modes of communication become increasingly advanced, all with the promise of greater performance, it becomes more important to discover solutions to incompatibility. Many times the issue of systems interoperability surfaces after installation is complete. Once the electronics are installed, it often becomes quite apparent that a network hub manufactured by the ABC Company does not function at optimum performance when used in conjunction with a telephone switch by the DCE Company. Assessing the systems before the design phase can lead to easier installation.

Whether or not the systems you are being asked to install are voice or data, video or wireless, the basic compatibility issues are always at play. Systems need to operate both independently and dependently in regards to one another. A fully functioning voice system is of little use if the network server fails to operate because of network traffic, thus rendering internal communications inoperative. Think about how essential communications are within your own organization, and you will understand the client’s perspective and what it is truly asking you to provide. EC

STONG is the enterprise developer at G. R. Sponaugle & Sons, Inc., a full-service engineering, construction, and communications company. She can be reached at (717) 564-1515 or via e-mail at jennifer.stong@grsponaugle.com.