Telecom Inside the Building

Nov. 28, 2006

By Dan Daley

The proliferation of cell phones and wireless nodes within buildings may make the old wired landline seem quaint, if not outright antiquated. Don’t get blinded by science, however. Getting wired telecommunications (telcom) service into a building remains critical. For now, wired voice communications remains the backbone of business interaction. Just ask any telemarketer.

The process of integration should start as early as possible into the design stage of a structure. “Sit down with the client's IT department as soon as you can,” stresses Andrew Braum, PE, owner of ASHRAE-affiliated A.S.B. Engineering, Bellmore, NY. “And there’s going to be a technical language barrier - get someone from your office who speaks the language of telcom. The later in the design process the telcom components are figured in, the more problems you potentially leave for later.”

Those problems include location and access issues for communications equipment racks and closets. The speed at which telecommunications is evolving demands that systems be upgraded more frequently than before. Easy and unhindered access to wired node areas is important.

That said, however, note that the need for MFD (main frame distribution) and IFD (intermediate frame distribution) closets will diminish in the near future as more voice and data are integrated over the same wire pairs. This will have the benefit of freeing up more square footage in designs compared to even 5 years ago. Risers - wire closets - that once were needed on every floor can now be spaced several floors apart. (The maximum distance for copper pairs is 328 feet.) This is being driven by the increased implementation of multiuser data networks (MDN), which combine an enhanced signal with services other than voice that “ride” on the wired network.

Laying out wiring runs is not typically an architectural issue, but acknowledging the need for raceway space is. Prior consultation with a client’s IT department will provide an idea of what level of wired telcom will be needed initially. Prudence suggests doubling that amount to address both the chronic space underestimations and to accommodate future additions to the system.

Intelligent Buildings ( has come up with a useful solution to cable run redundancy: a zone box that accommodates many different subsystems and also extends the wired core of the building farther out onto the floor plate. Every matrix box, security camera, and lighting control switch is not wired all the way back to the telecom closet. “This saves construction costs and offers additional return when the spaces are repurposed or during tenant generations,” says Tom Shircliff, IB’s director of marketing.

Regard all wiring scenarios as an infinite work in progress. Again, if you’ve had clear communications with the client's IT team, you’ll also have a good idea of what other wired data pathways are called for. Obviously, combining the routes of all low-voltage categories - voice, data, security, video, and IP - makes ergonomic sense. But their paths will diverge often - an office needs voice and IP but may not need access to security data. So to the extent that you can combine wiring paths, do so; to the extent that you can’t, know where the client expects telcom wiring to go before the building goes vertical.

Telcom will want its own UPS (uninterruptible power supply), apart from other low-voltage carriers, for basic 911/lifeline security if nothing else. Allow for this contingency in space and run planning. The National Institute of Building Sciences’ Whole Building Design Guide suggests that new buildings include power supply systems that can adjust power delivery to building occupation patterns, wire management systems that enable quick and low-cost reconfiguration, and integration of wireless products as they become commercially viable. (That last is great, but understand you're not going to completely wean the commercial universe off of wired communications for a long time to come, so don’t make the mistake of thinking of wired telcom as a stepchild in the system.)

While there may be less and less of it in the future, wire’s not going away.

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