Standards are the platform of all telecommunications networks. They establish guidelines and recommend best practices for every aspect of telecommunications cabling systems from network design and installation to cable performance and verification. Standards establish technical criteria and ensure uniformity and compatibility in and between networks, even multivendor networks.
In communications cabling, standards define cabling types, distances, connections, cabling architectures, performance parameters, testing requirements, and more. And because they provide recommended best practices, standards can reduce downtime and installation expenses. They simplify moves, adds, and changes. They maximize system availability, and they extend the usable lifetime of a cabling system. Standards enable you to build structured cabling systems that can easily accommodate existing technologies, equipment, and users, as well as future ones.
Today, there are two primary organizations involved in the development of structured cabling standards. The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) standards are usually specified in North America. The International Organization for Standardization standards are more commonly used outside of North America.
A short history of cabling standards.
Before 1985, there were no structured cabling standards. Phone companies used their own cabling. Businesses generally used a vendor’s proprietary system. Eventually, the Computer Communications Industry Association (CCIA) approached the Electronics Industries Alliance, formerly Association, (EIA) about developing cabling standards, which they did. Discussions centered around developing standards for voice, data, commercial, and residential cabling systems. (The TIA was formed in April 1988 after a merger of the United States Telecommunications Suppliers Association and the Information and Telecommunications Technologies group of the EIA.)
In 1991, the TIA published its Commercial Building Telecommunications Wiring Standard, ANSI/TIA-568. It was the first standard to define a generic telecommunications system that would support a multiproduct, multivendor environment. It enabled wiring systems to be planned and installed without definite plans for telecommunications equipment installed later. The latest version is TIA-568-C, published in 2009. The standards committees must review standards every five years, although the committees meet frequently. Currently, TIA-42 meets three times a year with interim meetings as needed and issues addendums to update the standards. This guide covers the most relevant standards to commercial buildings today. Specialized buildings and environments, such as data centers, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, industrial environments, etc., are covered by their own standards.
Today, there are a number of organizations developing standards related to cabling and communications:
ANSI (American National Standards Institute) — This group coordinates and adopts national standards in the U.S.
BICSI (Building Industry Consulting Service International, Inc.) — This association supports the information transport systems (ITS) industry with information, education, and knowledge assessment.
CSA (Canadian Standards Association) — Electrical and electronic goods in Canada must be CSA approved.
EIA (Electronics Industries Alliance) — Known for developing cabling standards with the TIA, the EIA ceased operations on February 11, 2011. EIA standards are now managed by the Electronic Components Association (ECA).
TIA (Telecommunications Industry Association) — Best known for developing cabling standards with the EIA, the TIA is the leading trade association for the information, communications, and entertainment technology industry.
ISO (International Organization for Standardization) — This group is the world’s largest developer of standards and includes standards groups from member nations around the world.
IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) — This international standards organization prepares and publishes international standards for all electrical, electronic, and related technologies.
IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.) — IEEE, pronounced “Eye-triple-E”, is an international organization and a leading developer of standards in a broad range of disciplines, including electric power, information technology, information assurance, and telecommunications.
NEC (National Electrical Code) — The NEC is a document produced by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). It is a regionally adoptable standard for the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment in the United States.
NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturing Association) — NEMA is the voice of and forum for the electrical and medical imaging industries serving manufacturer members.
NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) — This is the North American organization of fire prevention and an authoritative source on public safety.
Please note, because standards are constantly changing, a blog post such as this must be considered a guide. To purchase standards or to check the latest versions, please directly contact the associations.