In Desperate Need Of Positive Waves

Due to requests by users we're re-issuing this newsletter with the link text included here.

This column blends Kiefer Sutherland's dad, FTTP, the 606A cable-tracking standard (a really good idea used by almost no one), 10 reasons to be optimistic, Telly Savalas and Mario Lanza, Corning, Moore's Law, intelligent cable management systems, and some other stuff.

A strange but relevant melange!

By Joe Salimando

A strange World War II movie that starred Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Carroll O'Connor, and Donald Sutherland (you know, Keifer's dad) came to mind the other day. Titled "Kelly's Heroes," the film is, to choose a word carefully, improbable. Of course, you are SPOZED to "suspend disbelief" when you sit down in the dark in a movie theater. However, Sutherland's character is a tank commander who also happens to act and talk like a "hippie" from the 1960s. No, I am not making that up. Now, exactly what would possess the screenwriter to place such a character in the first half of the 1940s in Europe?

As dumb as that sounds, I liked it. I'm a big Kurt Vonnegut fan. This was as close to a Vonnegut idea as I've seen in any U.S.-made movie, ever -- with the exception, of course, of "Slaughterhouse Five" (the tale of a man who became unstuck in time).

Why did this come to mind? Our "Heroes" are trying to swipe $16M in gold from a bank behind enemy lines. A long shot? I have bet on 95-to-1 shots (and cashed) in my life, but I don't make a regular thing of it. As I said, the movie is improbable. But every time someone (usually Telly) expresses a bit of a negative perspective on the enterprise, Sutherland admonishes him and urges him to think positive . . . with the catchphrase, "Positive Waves, man!"

While we can all bemoan the condition of the economy, employment, and our 401(k) balances, there is no worse-off segment of the national picture -- nor of the wide industry that electrical distributors serve -- than telecom and datacom. If ever anyone needed "Positive Waves," it is the folks here.

And they are getting them (at least, verbally).

I Can't Wait For Tomorrow, Because . . . It's The Day After Today!

Cruising the interesting Web site the other day, I found a 9/8 report from the National Fiber Optics Engineers Conference. The keynoter, it turned out, was someone named Drew Lanza -- which, of course, made me think of Mario Lanza. I wonder if there are folks of Irish or German descent who have that same reaction?

  • Anyway, it turns out the speech was titled "Ten Solid Reasons To Be Optimistic." Here, as paraphrased by LightReading's editor, is the list:
  • The industry is poised to wire the planet
  • Communications are being recognized as a basic human right
  • R&D cycles have gotten faster
  • Moore's Law lives on
  • The industry's finances are returning to sanity
  • Electronics advances spur photonics
  • Internet commerce is, like, huge
  • All content is going digital
  • IP is becoming ubiquitous
  • The information revolution is at its midpoint

Actually, I don't disagree -- I believe the VDV/telecom industry is going to come all the way back someday -- hey, that's why I became co-owner of a newsletter serving the field! But the report notes that Lanza said he has no idea when the comeback will start; I agree with that, also.

What Cody Says About FTTP

First, this is not about florists. Second, I'm quoting here from a piece by Cody Willard. He is a partner in an investment firm and contributes material to and (to which I pay to subscribe) on telecom; you can subscribe separately (I have not) to his "The Telecom Connection" investment advisory newsletter. Note that I read not for purposes of filling this column, but as a check on my own tendencies. Approximately 85% of the people who write for the Web site have been wildly bullish on the economy and the stock market. I need that perspective, because I am wildly, insanely bearish.

Why? I can't go into all the reasons here. Let me fling two factolitos at you: 1 -- The financial folks recently invented the eight-year auto loan, because folks buying vehicles that cost more than $40,000 can't handle payments structured over seven years. Or six. Or the more reasonable . . . three. 2 -- According to reports, one out of seven homeowning families has not only exceeded the recommended "mortgage payments should equal 28% or less of your take-home pay," but this fraction of our fellow Americans is at 50% or above!

I've been a subscriber for more than one year. I've read Cody's free stuff. He's not a bull, not a bear. He's recommended shorting telecom stocks (as well as buying them). But on 9/5 the site printed what had been a subscribers-only Willard piece (it went to paying subscribers to his newsletter on 7/23). Old news? I don't think so. The deal is: Willard sees the fiber-to-the-premises build-out beginning across our nation in 2004 -- and continuing for quite a while. Some direct Willard quotes (taken from various parts of the item):

"The market for FTTP is several orders of magnitude larger than any fiber buildout we've ever seen in this country. As a reference point, Japan, which is smaller geographically than California, is currently the largest fiber consumer in the world after rolling out limited FTTP for several years."

"Over the next three to four months, the regional Bell operating companies will parse through the RFPs from the equipment vendors and will begin deciding on exactly what protocols they will deploy, most likely some sort of 622 MBps [622 megabits per second] . . . the average DSL speed is about 1/1,000th of that rate."

"The companies that supply the buildout will see revenue and earnings surge like never before. FTTP isn't just some flash-in-the-pan, unsustainable move, fueled by speculative capital chasing pie-in-the-sky returns. FTTP is the real deal, and it's being fueled by the conservative, rich, profitable and free-cash-flow-positive Baby Bells who will roll it out over several years."

Much of the column is about equipment stocks he likes (Avanex, stock symbol AVNX) and isn't so crazy about (Corning, stock symbol GLW). But let's leave those specifics out. Someone is going to install one heck of a lot of fiber to one heck of a lot of single-family houses if this guy is right. Who? I'm presuming some of the installation is going to be handled by people who regularly do business with the people reading this column.

I've followed Willard's opinions long enough to trust his judgment (i.e., he's not crazy). I'm not about to buy the stocks, and I would not bet on the roll-out happening on his schedule. But if he's half-right, that's good news . . . Positive Waves, Man! And if he's more than 50% right . . . Megapositive Waves!


A new one on you? It stands for intelligent cabling management systems. A 7/03 article in Communications News -- written by vendors, of course, as is the custom in one heck of a lot of magazines that aren't TED or Electrical Contractor these days -- might be worth a peek (go here). There's a big problem with the installation of structured cabling in buildings -- it is installed on a put-it-in-and-forget-it basis. Yes, that's just the way electrical wiring is done. But the electrical stuff hangs around for years and years (and years). The telecom/datacom cabling is a frequent target for MACs -- moves, adds, and changes.

A lot of this is just plain crazy. I've written two feature stories for Electrical Contractor in recent years on MACs. Here's a quick summary of what I've learned:

  1. 80% of the time a cable technician spends on MACs work is devoted to finding out which cable is which. Yes, I know, that sounds like a line from "Kelly's Heroes" . . . but it is repeatedly quoted by everyone in the data cabling business. Let's say it's half wrong. If the tech spends 40% of his time trying to determine which is wheat and which is chaff . . . that's goshdurn expensive, isn't it?

  2. According to some folks, the best solution when a Cat 5 wire needs to be moved (i.e., a workstation has been moved on a given floor) is to AVOID trying to find the cable. It's cheaper to just run another cable.

  3. The cabling people have tried to fight this. There is an EIA/TIA standard, #606A, that specifies cable management practices. If used, it would make it easy to differentiate between the kumquats and the kiwis -- cutting deeply into MACs costs.

  4. But it's not used very much. Why not? Here's my understanding, which might not be perfect:

    -- 606A is a voluntary standard, not a mandate, This ain't the National Electrical Code. For 606A to apply to THIS job, the customer has to put 606A into the specification.

    -- If the contractor sees 606A in the standard, he's got to raise his price. Why? Two reasons:

    #1 -- Cable tracking is not routine for his workforce, this is going to slow things down (it will not only add more hours to the job, but each hour is likely to be less productive); and there's of course the horrifying, terrifying, enthusiasm-squelching, devastating #2.

    #2 -- Looking on down the road, the contractor is going to get a lot less MACs work from THIS job. Word is that 35% to 50% of a typical cabling installation is moved or changed somehow EVERY YEAR. Add it up: That's 100% of the job in adds or revisions in three years (sometimes too). Put in 606A, and that number takes a severe hit.

    -- As the result of significantly higher prices if 606A is included in a job's specifications, I have been told several times, the customers are not at all interested in putting it into the spec. I know you're going to ask WHY NOT? ARE THEY IDIOTS? So I will tell you. 1 -- The cost of the initial installation (into which the 606A standard either is or is not incorporated) is a capital cost. A bean counter somewhere has to approve it. 2 -- Bean counters look at return-on-investment. The ROI gets a lot better if you OMIT the 606A standard. 3 -- On the other hand, "maintenance" is not a capital expense . . . it's a budget item. So who cares if the cost of MACs work goes to the sky . . . at least, in terms of bean numerology?

    You know, I really wish all of this was fiction. Instead, this is the "testimony" of various trustworthy people in the datacom business. In the magazine articles, I've quoted some of them saying what you see above. With their names attached to the ideas.

According to the folks from NORDX and iTRACS who wrote the ComNews piece, ICMS offers "real-time management" of structured cabling. How so? "Accurate information is reflected during move, add, and change (MAC) activities." The writers describe the system (I believe they are talking about something that iTRACS supplies) as "an automated, intelligent, self-updating application."


This, of course, is the problem with articles that are written by suppliers. Can you really expect an article by someone from Fluke to lead you in the direction of, "Hey, you don't need a meter for this -- just stick the wire in your mouth!" . . . ? Like the electrical and datacom contractors referenced above, however, you have to be suspicious of me on this. After all, the alternative to manufacturer-written features is hiring some jerk like me to write 'em.

Why did I provide the link to the ComNews article, then? It's got an interesting perspective. You'll find data in there that will come in handy ($300 per MAC or servicing for each of the data circuits in a network -- the authors say 40% of these circuits need such attention each year). Additionally, I thought bringing this issue out (and including the a-b-c-d explanation above) might provide an interesting insight for some distributors on what goes on in the VDV market.

However, there IS another reason: The Abandoned Cable issue. Much more on that in Part 2.

Joe Salimando of EFJ Enterprises is a consultant, web content provider, and wordsmith based in Oakton, Va.
To e-mail him, click on the link in his name; or call 703-255-1428.

Personal Disclaimer:

The appearance of the ambling pachyderm is indicative of the writer's obsession with elephants, not his political leanings.

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