There is no doubt that choosing cabling solutions is a complicated matter. Customers, naturally, are looking for a solution that will run full bandwidth applications further down the track as needed, at a price that suits, and with a workable warranty in case of any problems.
And problems will often occur - some industry watchers have estimated that cabling faults cause as much as 70 per cent of network problems.
As is often the case in IT, vendors have a vested interest in providing solutions using their products only, and will only give a warranty to customers who comply with that condition.
And of course installers and designers of network solutions have their own ideas, offering warranties on solutions that mix and match products from different vendors, to suit what they see as their customers' requirements.
So what is the best solution?
Steve Nahuysen, Australia and New Zealand marketing manager for cabling manufacturer Lucent Technologies, says high-end corporate customers will often go for an entire solution from the one company.
"We have always made the entire cabling system, from one end to the other. So as far as the supporting warranty aspect goes, firstly we've found it quite easy to support any sort of warranty claims that we may make, and secondly the claims that we make are based on lab testing of an actual end-to-end system. So the performance of the system is always a known quantity," he said.
"When you strip them down, our components individually aren't incredibly cheap, so the people that go for our systems are generally large corporations. They will go for a whole system and get the application warranty."
One of the biggest issues for Lucent, however, is that builders and installers of cable are look-ing to provide the cheapest possible solutions to customers; a practice that Nahuysen says can leave a customer short-changed.
"Many times a customer will specify a particular standard that cabling must be compliant to in a tender situation. So, for example, if a company wants to build a new building or renovate a floor they tend to have a pretty good idea of what they want installed," he said. "But what often happens is once a builder takes control of the project they have a very big controlling interest in what goes into the final product. So typically the builder or contractor tends to get away from what the customer or consultant has specified, and get an incredibly cheap, fairly minimally compliant cabling system supplied.
"People think they are getting warranties," said Nahuysen, "but problems are going to occur down the track when they want to run some high-speed across it. An electrical contractor may be able to guarantee the physical hardware from breaking or being faulty, but if the application doesn't work in five or six years time, then very often a corporation will find they have no comeback."
Matthew Martin, national sales manager at manufacturer The Siemon Company, agrees.
"Certainly there are some companies out there that are trying to get market share and offering warranties on products that aren't theirs. I think it's very important for people to read the fine print in a warranty situation."
Companies that design and install cable, however, can view the situation differently.
Stephen McCann, director of networking reseller Rivercorp, says the best solution for customers is often to integrate components from different vendors, and to allow the company that installs the network to provide the warranty.
"Because we sell anything and use anybody, we're not particularly loyal to any one particular company," he explained. "Your best warranty is still with the cable installer; you are far better to get them to give you a guarantee that ensures that if it breaks, they will fix it.
"If you look at a vendor, [you'll see] their contract will say that if there is a certified site for brand X, and somebody just needs to connect a new computer and goes down to Dick Smith and buys a patch lead, if they want to [the supplier] can say you have used a non-specified, non-certified cable - the guarantee is null and void. It seems to be a way of trying to get customers to stick to brand loyalty."
McCann says a solution will often be chosen according to the ease of installation of various components.
"We as installers often display a preference for a certain brand because it is easier for our technicians to work with," he said. "They might all perform to the same specifications, but we know that our technicians can install one of these networks and put in a panel in two hours while the other brand takes four hours. Everyone meets the standards, for us the prerequisite is how easy it is to work with and how easy it is to repair."
So although vendors are lukewarm on the idea of mix and match, and won't guarantee a network if it uses components from other suppliers, designers and installers of networks will recommend a mixed solution, and provide a warranty for repairs.
Which recommendation a customer chooses will depend, it seems, on the issue of price.
New in the cabling marketplace
MOD-TAP Australia has launched the new PowerCat range of enhanced performance structured cabling components. PowerCat is a Power Sum compliant Category Five UTP cabling range, designed for use in structured cabling systems. Offering a wide range of workstation outlets and patch panels, MOD-TAP considers the PowerCat range to be the most extensive Power Sum compliant range available.
Tel (03) 9747 8322
Fax (03) 9747 8627
Lucent Technologies has released a new Australian-manufactured copper cable delivering 1Gbit/sec bandwidth. Systimax Structured Connectivity Solutions (SCS) Gigaspeed cable provides companies with LANs increased bandwidth applications to support emerging applications. The cable offers an enhanced traditional four-pair design that improves signal integrity and strength while reducing cable emissions.
Tel 1800 242 580
Fax (02) 9352 9111
Xircom Australia has announced a new cable alternative for its GlobalAccess CreditCard Ethernet+Modem 33.6 and future 56K products. The MiniDock is a single device that eliminates the need for connectors, combining both the Ethernet as well as the modem cable into a one-piece docking device that slips into the PC Card.
Tel (02) 9911 7790
Fax (02) 9911 7796
Specialist network integrator Anixter has launched Anixter Levels 97, the most recent update to its performance-specifications standards for cables. Anixter Levels 97 defines the performance characteristics of unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cabling beyond 100MHz. This parameter is necessary for advanced applications such as intranet technology, three-dimensional imaging, multimedia programs, video-to-desktop computer-aided design (CAD) and broadband video.
Tel (02) 9333 0800
Fax (02) 9333 0808