The Electrical Contractor is a Rose by Any Other Name

Depending on whom you ask, the title of “electrical contractor” has different meanings. Generally, most people say an electrical contractor installs power distribution systems and lighting fixtures in a building. If we lived in the 1930s, you would be close to accurate.

Technological advances have changed the role of the electrical contractor. Like the extended hand, the electrical contractor now installs systems for power, control, communications, security and safety. Plus, the electrical contractor is tasked with the challenge of integrating these systems to automate the structure and maximize the functionality of the combined systems.

This article is a quick view of the migration toward the information technology methodology that has greatly expanded the role of the electrical contractor in today’s building requirements.

The EC as a communications contractor for voice, data and video
Wired for communications & wireless (low voltage)

The communications industry has challenged the electrical contractor to tackle the information technology (IT) requirements for networks supported by low voltage and fiber optic cabling. Many local area networks (LANs) have been upgraded to handle the increased transmission speeds and the exploding demand for additional bandwidth. Many experts forecast a need to upgrade the LANs to fiber optic backbones in order to meet future speeds and volume of traffic. While the high voltage distribution systems remain relatively stable, the low voltage picture is showing strong signs that we may see a rewiring America in the next decade. Moore’s Law supports this projection.

Moore’s Law is a computing term that originated around 1970; the simplified version of this law states that processor speeds or overall processing power for computers will double every two years. A quick check among technicians among several computer companies shows that the term is not very popular, but the rule is still accepted. To break down the law even further, it specifically states that the number of transistors on an affordable central processing unit (CPU) would double every two years.

If you were to look at processor speeds from the 1970s to 2009 and then again in 2010, you may think the law has reached its limit or is nearing the limit. In the 1970s processor speeds ranged from 740 kilohertz (kHz) to 8 megahertz (MHz). From 2000–2009, there has not really been much of a speed difference as the speeds range from 1.3 gigahertz (GHz) to 2.8 GHz, which suggests the speeds have doubled within a 10-year span, not the 2-year span Moore’s Law suggests. However, we are looking at the speeds and not the number of transistors.

In 2000, the number of transistors in the CPU numbered 37.5 million, while in 2009 the number went up to an outstanding 904 million. This is why it is more accurate to apply the law to transistors than to speed.

With all this talk of transistors, the average technician or computer user may not understand what the figures mean. A simpler way to explain is that the earlier CPUs on the market had a single speed or frequency rating while the newer models have a rating that refers to more than one CPU.

If you’ve purchased a computer recently, you might have an idea of what this means as salespersons may have sold you on the wonders of multicore CPUs. In the above example, the speeds over a large number of years went between 1.3 and 2.8, which is barely double, but it’s relevant to note that the 2.8 GHz processor is a quad core, while the 1.3 GHz processor is a single core. This means the actual power of the 2.8 GHz processor would be found if you multiply by four, which gives you a whopping 11.2 GHz.

Due to the rapid growth rate of technology in the past few years, most computer technicians you speak with—whether they have heard of Moore’s Law or no—will tell you that CPU speeds double each year. Though Moore’s Law had said every two years, this rapid increase in technological production has lessened the period in the minds of technicians and users alike.

The electrical contractor makes it smarter
Smart building systems

There are so many names for the science of automating buildings. "Environmental control" may best describe what the electrical contractor is doing. When electrical contractors are installing systems for controlling building temperature; heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment; lighting; life safety/fire; security; etc., they are controlling their customers’ environment. Now, electrical contractors are in the environmental control industry. Since, historically, the industry has segmented itself, we will keep the individual headings for now, but one of the goals of electrical contractors is to have all players at least acknowledge that they are in the same industry.
• Environmental control—includes all traditional building controls
• Lighting control—the integration of automatic lighting control for buildings
• Sensors, actuators and end devices—including adjustable speed drives, chillers, complete packaged air conditioning
• Fire and life safety—integration with the integrated building systems (IBS) or smart buildings.
• Security—integration for the tenants of the IBS
• Elevators—integration for the tenants of the IBS

The electrical contractors (a.k.a., control contractors) of the world bring life to all automation designs and new control concepts. The automation industry is only as good as our electrical contractors. Never before has the need to be informed and to have quick access to organized industry information been so critical. The electrical contractor to the rescue again.

The electrical contractor as security contractor for access control and video surveillance
With the growing need for improved security and the simultaneous shrinking of budgets, many building owners are turning to the electrical contractor for upgrades to their security systems. While video surveillance does not replace a live security force, it permits around-the-clock coverage over a much larger area. Many businesses report that the video surveillance system is a strong deterrent to crime and employee theft in their facilities. Specialty security contractors once dominated this area of services. However, as systems began to integrate, the electrical contractor became the preferred contractor. Security and safety are too important to ignore.

The electrical contractor as disaster recovery contractor for power, control, communications, security and safety
The national weather service just released its forecast for the 2011 hurricane season. The concept of dealing with a disaster and recovery is at the top of the list for the astute planner. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan as well as the recent outbreak of deadly tornados are fresh in our minds as we think what we would do. Many planners have already contacted their preferred electrical contractor with a request to survey their facilities and develop an emergency plan. A business without power or communications is not an option.

Clearly, the growing role of the electrical contractor remains strong in a weak economy. The electrical contractor wears many hats as it serves our needs for today and into the future. If you are trying to guide your children to a strong and successful future, you can’t go wrong with the new world of electrical contracting.

One area that continues to amaze me is the lack of marketing support for and focus on the electrical contractor by many major manufacturers of security and communications products. It is like they haven’t figured out what, where, and how electrical contractors buy their products. Check the advertising in electrical contracting trade publications, and you will see that many manufacturers still don’t get it.

BISBEE is with Communication Planning Corp., a telecom and datacom design/build firm. He provides a free monthly summary of industry news on

Network and Internet standards and publications
ARCNET Trade Association (ATA) is a non-profit organization of ARCNET users and manufacturers formed for the purpose of promoting ARCNET and providing information and standards for users. The ATA is also an ANSI standards organization that has developed industry standards for network communications.

BACnet Manufacturers Association (BMA) is an organization that will encourage the successful use of BACnet in building automation and control systems through interoperability testing, educational programs, and promotional activities. The BACnet Manufacturers Association will complement the work of other BACnet-related groups whose charters limit their commercial activities. BACnet Manufacturers Association members will include companies involved in the design, manufacturing, installation, commissioning, and maintenance of control equipment that uses BACnet for communication, as well as other interested persons.

BatiBUS Club International (BCI) Link sensors and actuators to building systems that control HVAC, security, access, and life safety. Scheduled to converge with EIB and EHS.

Bluetooth is the codename for a technology specification for small form factor, low-cost, short range radio links between mobile PCs, mobile phones and other portable devices. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group is an industry group consisting of leaders in the telecommunications and computing industries that are driving development of the technology and bringing it to market.

Buildings Magazine serves director-level facilities managers, designers, engineers, and other professionals who work with commercial and institutional facilities.

BUILDINGS OnLine provides the latest trends and products in the commercial/institutional buildings market.

Building Operating Management Magazine is the nation's leading renovation, construction and facilities management magazine for 70,000 building owners and facility executives in commercial and institutional buildings.

CEBus (Consumer Electronics Bus) Standard (EIA-600) is a protocol specification developed by the Electronic Industries Association (EIA) to support the interconnection and interoperation of consumer products in a home. All media.

CW Industries is leader in building system integration utilizing The CrossTalk Platform.

EIB (European Installation Bus) Link sensors and actuators to building systems that control HVAC, security, access, and life safety. Scheduled to converge with BatiBus and EHS.

EHS (European Home System) is a European industry and government collaboration on home automation. Among the objectives of EHSA are accelerating the process of standardization and encouraging international harmonization. Scheduled to converge with BatiBus and EIB.All media.

Ethernet is a local-area network (LAN) protocol developed by Xerox Corp. in cooperation with DEC and Intel in 1976. Ethernet uses a bus or star topology and supports data transfer rates of 10 Mbps. The Ethernet specification served as the basis for the IEEE 802.3 standard, which specifies the physical and lower software layers. Ethernet uses the CSMA/CD access method to handle simultaneous demands. It is one of the most widely implemented LAN standards. A newer version of Ethernet, called 100 Base-T (or Fast Ethernet), supports data transfer rates of 100 Mbps. And the newest version, Gigabit Ethernet supports data rates of 1 gigabit (1,000 Mbps) per second.

ETI (Extend The Internet Alliance) is committed to making emWare’s EMIT technology the de facto industry standard for networking devices. With EMIT technology as the foundation, ETI Alliance companies work together to create and deliver complete device networking services and products.

HAVI (Home Audio Visual Interoperability) is a Consumer Electronics (CE) industry standard that will ensure interoperability between digital audio and video devices from different vendors and brands that are connected via a network in the consumer's home.

HBS (Home Bus) is a consortium of Japanese companies, supported by government agencies and trade associations, and has specified communications standards and equipment for home automation. This encompasses links among appliances, telephones, and audio-video equipment using twisted-pair wires and coaxial cables. Coaxial/Twisted Pair

HES (Home Electronic System) The Home Electronic System (HES) is a standard under development by a formal Working Group sanctioned by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) of Geneva, Switzerland. A primary goal of HES is to specify hardware and software so a manufacturer might offer one version of a product that could operate on a variety of home automation networks. All media.

HomeAPI is dedicated to broadening the market for home automation by establishing an open industry specification that defines a standard set of software services and application programming interfaces which enable software applications to monitor and control home devices.

Home Plug and Play provides interoperability among products with multiple transport protocols. Overseen by the CEBus Industry Council.

HomePlug Alliance was created to set a technology specification for home powerline networking and to promote its wide acceptance in the marketplace. The alliance's objective is to enable and promote rapid availability and adoption of cost effective, interoperable and specification-based home powerline networks and products enabling the connected home.

HomePNA (Home Phoneline Network Alliance) is an association of industry-leading companies working together to ensure adoption of a single, unified phoneline networking standard and rapidly bring to market a range of interoperable home networking solutions.

HomeRF (Home Radio Frequency Working Group) intends to enable the existence of a broad range of interoperable consumer devices, by establishing an open industry specification for unlicensed RF digital communications for PCs and consumer devices anywhere, in and around the home.

IAQ is a website developed specifically as an indoor air quality (IAQ) resource. The main feature of the site is the discussion forums where IAQ related questions can be asked. Since the objective is for an open and unbiased discussion, anyone accessing the site can respond to any of the questions. The site is continuously updated for current IAQ news and feature articles. There is also an IAQ product showcase and listing for companies specializing in IAQ. A glossary of terms and a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) can be accessed from the site. In addition, an IAQ event calendar is also maintained.

The Internet is a global network connecting millions of computers. As of 1999, the Internet has more than 200 million users worldwide, and that number is growing rapidly. More than 100 countries are linked into exchanges of data, news and opinions. Unlike online services, which are centrally controlled, the Internet is decentralized by design. Each Internet computer, called a host, is independent. Its operators can choose which Internet services to use and which local services to make available to the global Internet community. Remarkably, this anarchy by design works exceedingly well. There are a variety of ways to access the Internet. Most online services, such as America Online, offer access to some Internet services. It is also possible to gain access through a commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP).

JINI (The Jini Community) technology provides simple mechanisms that enable devices to plug together to form an impromptu community -- a community put together without any planning, installation, or human intervention. Each device provides services that other devices in the community may use.

LonMark Interoperability Association’s mission is to enable the easy integration of multivendor systems based on LonWorks networks using standard tools and components.

The Object Management Group (OMG) is committed to developing technically excellent, commercially viable and vendor independent specifications for the software industry.

OPC Foundation is an organization to develop an open and interoperable interface standard, based upon the functional requirements of OLE/COM and DCOM technology, that fosters greater interoperability between automation/control applications, field systems/devices, and business/office applications.

Open Service Gateway Initiative (OSGi) specification will create an open standard for a service gateway that is inserted between the external network and the internal network.

PROFIBUS is the world's leading vendor-independent open fieldbus standard for use in manufacturing and building automation as well as process control. is the ultimate automation industry source for information on software for Supervision Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA). This network of pages focuses on the union between the PC and the plant floor, a union that has both an interesting history and a promising future.

The Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) Forum is an industry group of companies promoting universal plug and play networking protocols and device interoperability standards.

Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) promotes the VESA Home Network, which consists of a backbone network, one or more component networks, a number of access devices that connect the home network to external access networks, a number of network devices that connect component networks to the home backbone network, and end devices that provide various functional services to the home user.

The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is an open, global specification that empowers mobile users with wireless devices to easily access and interact with information and services instantly.

Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance’s (WECA) mission is to certify interoperability of IEEE 802.11 High Rate products and promote that standard for the enterprise, small business and the home. The IEEE 802.11 Standard offers wireless connectivity at speeds up to 11 Mbps.

About the Author

Frank Bisbee

Freelance Writer
Frank Bisbee is with Communication Planning Corp., a telecom and datacom design/build firm. He provides a free monthly summary of industry news on .

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