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The leaps in technology and a rising appetite for greater bandwidth steered copper cable manufacturers into new territory where production and installation is more difficult and testing is a gamble. On the other hand, glass fiber and its connecting hardware became more affordable. The end-user now faced a dilemma. Quietly, a movement toward adding plastic optical fiber (POF) cable to the plate has been occurring. It is not quite capable of meeting the 90-meter requirement, but I have seen this distance grow from a few meters to over 50 meters in the last two years. The promise of cheap light sources, uncomplicated optical connectors, no bend radius problems, and easy installation has created nightmares for the copper and glass fiber crowd. The future of telecommunications is wireless, they tell us. For data communication, that means we have to rethink the model of a structured cabling system. Horizontal cabling will not end at a work area outlet anymore, but rather in a transceiver unit for a specific zone inside a building. These “antennae” will be the connectivity links for computer workstations, presumably all laptops. Maybe not. Most of the people at TIA-TR42 are working hard on the specification of Cat 6 cabling. Some of them are under pressure from Europe to accept the reality of Class F, which would be Cat 7 somewhere around 600 MHz. I have created mental models of Class H, which will be known in America as Cat 9. After careful consideration I opted to not pursue Cat 8, which is 2x4, the first harmonic of Cat 4, which was a bummer all by itself. With Cat 9 and its 2.5 Ghz, the industry will finally have the breathing room it needs to design components that have a product life cycle of at least six months, with a net sales period of 19 days before obscurity. While the above process is inevitable, the actual numeric statements are to be studied further and—-in the event of subsequent quotation in other publications—have to be properly marked “ffs” or “TBD.” I get the feeling a lot of scrap copper wire will be available right around the time the United States abandons the copper one-cent coin. In voice communications, some companies in Scandinavia (and probably in the U.S., too) show us the way: Offices don’t have any installed telephones anymore. Employees all carry cell telephones. And here is the deal with the cell service provider: Within the zone the company is located, calls are free; calls to and from the adjacent cells count as local calls; all others are long-distance calls. With secure encoding, the same would soon be possible for data transmission. A short time ago, I participated in an international standard meeting in Sydney, Australia. Russell, a remarkable young man from New Zealand who works for the company with the red swirl in the logo, installed a wireless card in each of about 60 laptops of the committee members. The brain of the system was skillfully arranged around a server in the corner of the meeting room. The pilgrimage of the “uploaders” to this secret garden resulted in over 100 documents that were managed, processed, and evaluated by the “downloaders,” who, in the course of ad hoc committee work, took their computers across the room and even to other floors. No cabling was necessary. If it hadn’t been for the napkins and the hotel’s complimentary note pads, this would have been a truly paperless event. As the friendly Kiwi told me, wider dissemination of wireless data transmission technology is only a question of higher speed. History has shown that if engineers are able to make something work fast, they can also make it work faster, and faster, and .... Remember, a few years ago we couldn’t imagine what a Gigabyte was; today we call them “Gigs,” and their number decides if the hard disk on our laptop is in vogue or outdated (older than six months). While automation through the use of control circuitry in the factory started years ago and is fine-tuned each day, home automation has had a rocky start. Contrary to the plant, it is very seldom the goal of optimized home automation to downsize mom or pop. Isn’t it scary to accept the thought that right this moment your refrigerator talks to the grocer’s warehouse computer ordering a couple of six-packs (... Master seems to prefer Coors recently...) There is really nothing wrong with that, except mankind is too slow to adapt. It always takes a generation to digest new technology. I read recently somewhere that people are captivated by technology that became popular during their lifetime but are quite ambivalent towards things that were there before. My sons relish video games. The basic design of a radio is worth a yawn. I was building my own crystal radio when I was a teenager, but the incredible opportunities that the railroad with mass transportation at high-speed presented didn’t knock my socks off. Is it possible that survival of the fittest in our time happens on the Internet? Gaining access often means fighting forces that want to lock out. How far away are the keyless communicators really? Scientists seem to have finally abandoned the idea that a voice recognition system has to be able to recognize everybody’s voice. But the communicator (’cator) only needs to understand, “His Master’s Voice.” So in the future we will spend some time with a gizmo teaching it (her?) the deviation of our voice from a standard voice pattern, and then we understand each other and can carry conversations. No more keyboard and screen needed. That cuts down the real estate severely. And instead of wearing it around the wrist like a watch, the ’cator will be pinned on our chest, in a perfect triangle with the human ear and mouth, yet not excluding the nose from a possible sensual upgrade. Wearing it on the chest instead of on the wrist also avoids the scenario by which every time the master wants to talk to his ’cator, he or she has to lift an arm, which would look strange and could be interpreted as hostile behavior. My subjective study comes to the conclusion that politicians labor very hard to slow down the commercial use of new ideas and technologies in order to prevent an overload of the human brain. The availability of an immense knowledge with easy access would hasten the demise of politicians. Who needs political leaders that have lost their only advantage: To know better than anybody else. Unfortunately, the arsenal of weapons for the politicians is rather limited: higher taxation, focus on unrest in Africa, monopoly lawsuits. The handling of the alien crash landing in Roswell, N.M., in the middle of the last century has proven that the government can control the dangers of technological leapfrogging. One can only hope that the engineering community exercises proper restraint and doesn’t come out with something new every day. Imagine this optional future. The future after that? Beam me up, Albert. KEDEN is employed as codes and standards manager with Erico, Inc. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].