Effects of New Technology on Structured Cabling Systems

September 9, 2015
by Matt Gentile, Product Manager Datacom Products – General Cable

In a 2013 survey, General Cable asked “What is your current horizontal (to the workstation) physical infrastructure?” to 200 market fields in construction, installation and maintenance.

Current horizontal physical infrastructure

The majority of responders chose Cat 5, 5E and 6 as their current horizontal physical infrastructure. Wireless and Cat 6A run a distant third at 8% with fiber hovering around 4% of the installed base for the past five years.

If copper would become obsolete, an unlikely situation, the majority of users would turn to wireless not necessarily fiber. Challenges such as the difficulty of fiber installation, the cost of converting optical to electronic signal and the complexity of fiber termination will likely stall the conversion to fiber in the work place.

if Copper Cable Became Obsolete

Future shifts from copper to new technologies will be slower, because the cable industry has continued to improve performance. Jumping from category 3 to 5, then 5E to 6 and on to 6A, shrinks that performance gap between delivered bandwidth for copper and fiber. Higher bandwidth copper solutions are also on the horizon.

Impact of Future Technologies on Future Sales

Additionally, manufacturers of copper cabling have relentlessly been taking the cost out of their product. Not only have manufacturers been reducing the performance gap, but we have also been broadening or increasing the cost gap. Consequently, fiber remains as a solution for data centers, but not so much in the structured environment. We look for slow, 1 % per year conversion, for those consuming lots and lots of data and willing to make the investment.

Category cable maxed out in 2005

Looking back at that 2005 to 2012 period, we think fiber and wireless have already had the “fork-lift” effect. Category cable maxed out in 2005, but the economy continued to grow until the 2008/2009 decline. That’s when we think fiber and wireless began drawing a significant portion of the structured market. Over the last four or five years, an equilibrium has been reached. We’re projecting slower future shifts, around 2%, from copper to new technologies.

Projecting that the macro economy will grow 1-2% annually, we can expect that growth to transfer over to the category market. We’re expecting that wireless will gradually pull 2-4% away from structured cable on an annual basis. The enabling technology of PoE will provide a 1-2 % lift to the structured cable market. Lastly, we feel that fiber will not be a major threat. Adding all of these factors together, we project a 1 % decline of the copper category market. General Cable saw flat sales in copper category cables in 2014.

The following chart below sums up our assessment of the structure cable market today and in the upcoming future.

Assessment of Structure Cable Market

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