Don’t let ‘Superdome Syndrome’ shanghai IP Convergence

MDUs require forward-thinking structured cabling and conduit plan


By Tom McAllister, RITP

Director of Technical Services, comCables


As the recent Super Bowl “lights out” fiasco demonstrated all too graphically, it’s often hidden malfunctions that shut you down—sometimes with catastrophic consequences.


The same issue applies in multi-family dwelling unit (MDU) planning for such mission-critical applications as Voice/VoIP, data/Internet connectivity, closed circuit television (CCTV), security and fire alarm systems, building automation systems, heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC), light and access controls, and even system-wide energy monitoring and reduction.


All these systems are using or planning “IP” or Internet Routed Protocol to send their signals back and forth between control equipment and devices that comprise those systems. Previously, each system had its own cabling and used different communication protocols.


IP Convergence combines these previously disparate systems into one major pipeline. With IP Convergence, all systems become nodes on a computer network and use a common structured cabling system to communicate through the network. While much more efficient, robust, flexible and ultimately cost-effective, IP Convergence also puts everything together in one conduit.


In turn, this makes the phrase, “as strong as its weakest link” very relevant. This was demonstrated dramatically at the Superdome, evidently because of a breaker switch snafu.


It occurs far more often with cable system wiring supplying TV, Internet and phones in an IP-convergence environment. When the cable fails at any point on the system, everything goes out. In the case of an apartment complex, this can be maddening to tenants and costly to owner/operators. In the case of a nursing home, complete shutdown could be catastrophic to health and wellbeing.


Given the growth of IP Convergence when planning a new or expanded MDU facility, two critical considerations merit attention—1) focus on structured cabling quality and pathway planning as much as higher-profile, “flashier” systems and components; and

2) make sure you have redundant backup to prevent glitches from becoming gargantuan failures.


Here are proven paths to success when viewing pathway planning and structured cabling configurations in an MDU environment:


1. Consider pathways and structured cabling solutions with the same “mission critical” attention as you would airport runways at a major international airport. Substandard processes and materials could prove disastrous; not considering future needs of larger, heavier aircraft could prove very costly.


When IP Convergence pathways and structured cabling requirements projected 5-10 years out are properly envisioned and deployed, any needed modifications are relatively simple (versus tearing out the walls and replacing cabling, among other costly, disruptive measures).


Plan for increasing network speeds. Today’s normal is 1 Gigabit Ethernet speed (hundred times faster than the original 10 Megabit systems 15 years ago). Ten Gigabit is on the horizon, requiring upgraded structured cabling.


2. Commit to (and document) the best structured cabling and connectors. Business and personal consumers who wouldn’t buy expensive computer technology through an unproven Internet site too often order counterfeit cables from just such sites. And if there ever was a place for the adage, “The bitter taste of poor quality lingers long after the sweet taste of low price is forgotten,” this is it.


Make sure your contractor buys legitimate structured cabling that adheres to a set of codes and standards (also used by building and fire inspectors) to ensure the safety and performance of the network. Testing organizations UL and ETL work with manufacturers to ensure product compliance and the manufacturer should be listed on their website.


Also, test all installed cabling circuits with a Fluke DTX 1800 or comparable device. (Just because products state they are UL or ETL and meet Category 6 performance levels, does not mean that the product actually complies with these standards or that the circuit installed meets the requirements.) 

3. Backup, backup, backup. With everything residing on one network delivery system, there is good advice from onetime US industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who said, “…put all of your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket.” Plan for redundancy in a variety of failure situations, and test it out to make sure it works. Develop and test as many “what if” scenarios as you can to make sure your system has adequate redundancy.


4. Include trusted advisors in the design and decision-making team—people who understand infrastructure needs and lifecycle savings. Check out other service providers to see what they have planned. Make sure communications consultants carry appropriate credentials, such as membership in Building Industry Consulting Service International, Inc. (BICSI), a professional association supporting the information technology systems industry. Look for Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD) or Registered Information Technology Professional (RITP) certification. Examine their previous designs to get a feel for how they think and envision the future.  


When these practices are put in place and followed, you now have a cabling structure in place for your business that will handle any system required for the communications, data, energy management and security of your building. 

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