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Cabling our Government

Cabling our Government

Wide range of solutions available for various applications

The government commands a lot of information in data centers, local municipalities, homeland security, health, and every touch that governments have with private citizens and companies. The data can be classified, private and public-facing as in forms. All of this data lives somewhere, and all of it needs transmitting at some point. The preferred method of carrying that data will vary on the type, location, and distance of the data.

For more secure data transmissions, the choice for government installations has historically been either shielded copper or fiber. Each solution has a range of options and supported applications. To further complicate things, there are also wide ranges of solutions for the various applications. A further consideration is the longevity of the system. While most government buildings are owned and will have a long lifecycle, there are temporary government installations that may require a different set of criteria.

Open Systems

Procurement methods for the government are also different, and ideally, the government procurement officials enforce open systems and equal evaluations for bidding, unlike the private sector where incentives may apply. Some suppliers provide rebates and incentives for specifying their systems as the first or only supplier listed on bid documents. Holding a sole specification on a government bid is harder to do barring the absence of an “or equal,” but where private contractors write the bid documents or provide the materials procurement for installations, or equal enforcement does not always occur. Even the “made in America” preferences may fall by the wayside.

As to the type of cabling, selection depends on whether or not the cabling will reside in a classified environment, the type of signal to be carried and the environment of the installation. For fiber in classified/ secret environments, the connections are generally keyed and color-coded assuring that only specific equipment gains physical access to the cabling media. While this seems rather rudimentary, if you can’t connect to a network you can’t harm it, either. No “accidental” snooping or connections are allowed. In fact, for highly classified systems and installations, it is unlikely that one could get access to the building even to try to connect to the fiber.

Fiber for work areas is generally OM3, but OM4 is a laser-optimized fiber and can go longer distances than OM3. At present, OM4 carries a premium over OM3, and it is backward compatible to OM3. But when planning, it is best to determine not only the end interface (keyed or unkeyed) but the length supported. Singlemode fiber is also an option. It is less expensive than the multimode OM3, and OM4 options, but provides a significantly longer supported signal path. It is generally used in backbone applications, but there are many others that either supported or will be supported by single mode in the near future. For either, the connector type needs specifying and verifying prior to procurement.

For both classified and non-classified environments, the next level of security exists via access cards readers, smart doors, cameras, and software. These systems are one area where category cabling may not be appropriate. For many card readers, magnetic locks and magnetic jams, two wire applications still exist. The gauge of conductor and length of the runs preclude category cabling from being a suitable substitute. Building Codes and electrical codes are part of the consideration, as heavier gauges are needed to support the electrical requirements for some of these applications. For some transmission requirements, four pairs are simply overkill and fitting the necessary cabling within door jambs is already difficult at best. Adding three more pairs just to be adding them, just won’t work in these environments.

Beyond the doors, security cameras are in use in nearly all government installations. The problem with the cameras is that in many cases, they are retrofits to existing installations or are a replacement for the older CCTV coaxial camera systems. Today, cameras need to have PTZ, clearer pictures and in some cases, need to have the ability to support facial recognition. Coax could carry image data packets over significantly greater distances than the 100m category cabling limit set by TIA/ ISO and IEEE. In addition to the extended distances often needed, power is also necessary to support the camera. Power can be supplied either by an external power connection or via the switch with PoE. There are multiple levels and standards for PoE as shown in the table below.

There are several advantages to providing digital power to an end device:

  • No need to run incremental AC power to the device.
  • Power only needs to be backed up in the telecommunications area, additional battery backup solutions for edge devices is not required.
  • Some AC to DC conversions are eliminated resulting in lower power losses.
  • Single connections to devices.

Lending Support

These devices are supported by category cable. Just like in traditional electrical transmissions, the conductor size has bearing on the length supported. As these are Ethernet applications, most limit supported distances to 100 meters without some type of repeater or transceiver. There are, however, length optimized cables that can support both the Ethernet data transmission and the power well in excess of 100m. These length optimized cables are designed to support the lengths originally supported over coax, distances outside of the 100m range for 10/100/1000 Ethernet as well as the PoE portion. Underwriters Laboratory has verified these cables to fully support 200m for Gigabit applications with PoE+ and 850 feet for 10Mb/s Ethernet with PoE+. The distance alone eliminates the need for repeaters, transceivers, additional IDF or telecommunications areas making these cables highly sought after for longer distance PoE devices like cameras and Wireless

Access Points (WAPs).

For applications inside a building and places where cabling is congested, LP cables may be used. These cables are not necessary for smaller bundles. The NEC has provided ampacity tables to determine when in fact, these cables are needed. There is a misconception in the industry about when to actually use these cables. It is not based on the amount of power only. The idea behind these cables is to stop the heat rise when multiple cables are bundled in a pathway. As they are more expensive than standard category cables, you can avoid the additional expense by keeping your bundle size under the NEC rating for the amount of power and gauge size of the conductors, move to larger conductors (if possible), or use another form of mitigation. Where you can’t, these cables allow one to have the best of both worlds.

Most work areas should be installed with the expectation of supporting PoE applications. For years, laptops could not use PoE applications, as the hard drive simply required too much power. However, with solid state drives and the advancements today, PoE workstations could very well be the norm soon. Likewise, many VoIP phones are designed to run while being powered over their Ethernet connections. For laptops that use wireless, there won’t be a PoE port available for them to use for power, but other devices are likely to make use of the PoE port.

Higher performing cabling systems like Cat 6A are an ideal solution for long-term work areas with powered support. The fact that they can support 10GBASE-T over 100m is just a plus. If a work area is either temporary or used for terminal services alone, it may be prudent to use a Cat 6 cable, which will offer better power transmission propagation than Cat 5E. For work areas outfitted with fiber for security reasons, it is still prudent to provide a 6 or 6A cable for PoE applications if security practices will allow copper.

The Fire Rating

Another consideration for cables outside of security is the life safety systems within the buildings. Circuit integrity cables are those cables that will allow data to pass for a period of time during a fire. The most common cables are those that carry a 2-hour fire rating, meaning that the cables will propagate signals for two hours during a fire event. This is accomplished via an outside jacket that “ceramifies” during a fire event to keep it from spreading flame and keep the cable from melting. Currently, this cable is specified for areas of refuge, the closing loop in closed loop fire systems, where fire system cabling crosses open/plenum areas and the like.

These cables are gaining traction in transport stations, airports, and other government installations. There are two designations for these cables, CI and CIC. CI is circuit integrity and CIC is circuit Integrity in Conduit. There are some that are both. There is also a tape that you can retrofit cables with to make them two-hour rated. This tape is expensive, and it may be more cost effective to run new channels.

For all cabling considerations for government, it is in your best interest to look outside of a single vendor for the options available to you. The standards assure that transmissions will work and work well for all standards-based systems. If there are properties outside of the standards-based solutions, be sure that these properties matter before paying extra for them. For some solutions that exceed the standards, there could be savings to be had in other areas. If you aren’t really sure what all of the parameters mean, silicate the advice of an RCDD.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Security Today.

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