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Point: Coax Vs. Twisted Pair

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June 01, 2002
Mark Haley - mhaley@theprismpartnership.com

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© 2002 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Some of my best friends use coax, but I wouldn’t want my hotel to rely on it.

Structured cable plants are the way to go. Period. Category 5 (or better) cable plants are a superior transmission medium to coaxial cable in every instance. That is why coax has completely disappeared from the data communications universe in favor of CAT- 5. The last gasp of coaxial cable is a primitive architecture based on obsolete analog technology that will only become more constrained as the demand for bandwidth increases universally.

What Is a Structured Cabling System?
Structured cabling plants consist of CAT-5 (or higher capacity) cable and connectors organized in its own consistent, hierarchical system to carry voice, data and video. The cable plant becomes a system in itself, one that can be managed and administered so as to produce reliable, long-term and cost-effective performance. A key attribute of a structured cabling system is that the wire doesn’t care what it is carrying.

The requirements and design of this class of cabling system are clearly defined in a published, well-accepted standards document issued by the Telecommunications Industry Association and the Electronics Industry Association known as TIA/EIA 568. First issued in 1991, the sponsors continue to improve and enhance the standard for the benefit of all computer users and building owners. For more on what TIA/EIA 568 means for hotels, see the AH&LA Technology Committee’s -Hotel Technology Infrastructure. This document is available for download from the AH&LA’s members-only page at http://ahla.com/techprimer/index.asp.

Not too long ago, most computer problems had their roots in cable problems. TIA/EIA 568 installations simply don’t have those problems anymore.

Why Use TIA/EIA 568 for Everything?
Let’s talk about some of the things that make structured cable plants adhering to the TIA/EIA 568 standard the right path for all telecommunications service in a hotel, including voice, data and television — make that especially television.

A structured cabling system is built to carry high bandwidth traffic in a structured hierarchy. As capacity demand increases, it is very easy to upgrade system capacity with segmentation and inexpensively upgrading switching components. You don’t have to replace the backbone cable, just increase the segmentation and the switching capacity.

Use the same cable plant for voice service to guestrooms and administrative locations as well as data and video. This strategy reduces the building manager’s total cost of ownership (TCO) by eliminating the need to buy, build and maintain a separate and parallel coax plant. Furthermore, the CAT-5 plant can grow and improve over time using the same backbone. With coax, the only way to upgrade is to buy and install new backbone cable.

Some people would have you believe that coax can support more bandwidth than any form of switched Ethernet. However, bandwidth requirements are not a consideration in a Gigabit Ethernet world. Remember that with an Ethernet architecture, the bandwidth is per port: the entire 1GB of bandwidth is available to the monitor’s dedicated port for a single channel of video or interactive content. With a coax architecture, the entire bandwidth is shared across the entire network supporting all of the broadcast channels and interactive sessions. The net result is that the Ethernet design yields multiples more bandwidth to the guestroom than the coax ever could.

Why Is Coaxial Cable Still Used?
That is a good question. Coax came into wide usage in the 1960s as a way to distribute low-grade signal across very long distances, which is very different from passing high-grade signals through a hotel or even a large, spread out resort. Coax does support a tremendous amount of signal. As long as everyone on the network is watching the same pool of channels at the same time, everything is fine. But if you increase the number of channels or interactivity, the network congests quickly and your only option is to replace the backbone with a larger hardline cable.

Coax does have a single notable virtue: there is much of it already installed to support yesterday’s analog world. But is it really the best solution for today’s digital universe?
The choice is clear. If you want to build your TV distribution system around an archaic analog technology, you can still do that. Or you look to the future and make effective use of today’s standards-based cable plant designs and communications technology using a structured cable plant.

Mark Haley is a partner with The Prism Partnership. He can be reached at mhaley@theprismpartnership.com.

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