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A Call for Standardization

As Phone and Data Systems Grow More Complex, TIA-570-B Could Be the Key to Strong Infrastructures

There was a time when a home network meant two computers sharing a printer. With technologys increasing sophistication and speed, that old model seems primitive when stacked against what has become standard today. It is no longer unusual to see newly built homes and retrofits alike, equipped to achieve the best possible data distribution stream.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), thanks to the flexibility it offers for very little cost, is also becoming commonplace. Voice over IP is taking over the industry, said Richard D. Reynolds, a CEDIA instructor and Cisco program coordinator at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. If basic telephone companies dont respond to VoIP and start offering it, they are not going to be in business anymore. The cost is dramatically less, and the phone companies have historically charged a lot of money for a phone call.

In 2004, the Telecommunications Industry Association responded to the rapid developments of VoIP with the TIA-570-B standard, which addresses installation and test practices for video, data, phone, security, and whole-house audio cabling. The impetus behind creating that standard is that builders want to work with one installer for all of their low-voltage cabling in homes, said Adam Welch, marketing manager for termination and test tools at Fluke Networks. He noted that in the past cabling installations were chaotic and werent subject to testing practices, which led to finger pointing between systems integrators and cabling installers. This standard was created to standardize the way that phone and data systems are installed and tested so that they are high integrity, high performance, and meet the bandwidth requirements of homeowners.

While the transition to TIA-570-B is showing progress, Welch maintains that the industry is not adopting the standard quickly enough. He points out that the benefits offered by TIA-570-B are two-fold: it stands to reduce costly callbacks to the job, and it bolsters their companys reputation for integrating solid systems. The installers who really do value their reputation are performing this type of testing, but there are still quite a fewI would say the majoritywho havent adopted the TIA 570-B standard. This perpetuates the ongoing issue where the systems are performing below customer expectations, or not working at all, and then [the] ambiguity as to who is at fault, he said. When the infrastructure is not performing the way it should, the blame game starts, and people start pointing fingers, which leads to inefficiency, and ultimately, it costs the consumer.

This issue is exacerbated by the fact that custom installers have no control over the quality of the system outside the homeowners front door. Combine this with the fact that not all telephone companies are reputed for their responsiveness, and installers soon find themselves dealing with a very frustrated clientele.

Welch notes that the new breed of qualification testers that meet TIA-570-B provide custom installers with a more affordable means of testing and documenting the systems they install. It does test documentation for voice, data, video, audio, security, and home automation, he explained. It provides residential installers with an affordable way to conduct testing. The tester is about $1,000, which is less expensive than what was previously available to them.

The growing convergence of multimedia systems, such as television, phone and data, over the same cabling demands more bandwidth and testing. We havent seen an explosion from this type of convergence yet, but it is something we see on the horizon as a major issue, Welch said. Once the bandwidth requirements multiply by five to 10, we are going to see some sticky issues.

Not only are multimedia systems converging, the features offered by new technologies continue to evolve to higher levels of functionality and complexity, which strengthens the case for TIA-570-B. One of the more interesting developments that is on the horizon is the cell phone that becomes a cordless phone: its a cell phone when you are outside the home, and it becomes a cordless phone when youre in the house. It works off of cordless cell stations within the house itself, said Dave Shafer, CEO of Green Light Technologies. Fiber to the house is also becoming big reality in a lot of locations. That is going to increase the capabilities within the structure itself, with high-speed Internet, multiple phone lines, and everything else.

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.