Overcoming Challenges in Communications Design

By Chris Daniels, RCDD, NTS, ESS

Technology Designer, Associate


Multi-building campus facilities such as university or hospitals offer unique challenges when considering distributive fiber services and telecommunication design. These types of facilities have a long-term presence and often experience numerous renovations and building additions. While long-term success and expansion are good indicators of a well-run operation, they can also present challenges for communications design.

The most common challenges of retrofitting existing facilities include providing standards compliant pathways with capacity for reasonable expansion, easy access, and re-enterable UL firestop systems required at all rated barrier penetrations. In cases where outdoor pathways are involved it is important to remember to provide gas and liquid tight seals at building envelope penetrations both inside and outside of conduits below grade. Proper pathways provide the facilities the ability to transition cable types from outdoor cabling to listed building cables, and provides primary protection of “exposed” conductive cables.

In projects where a new or updated service entrance is required, special consideration must be given to the fact that the utility providers will be involved. Utility providers are often accustomed to NESC regulations and their own company standards rather than national and local building codes. Utility crews may be tasked with installing cables throughout a customer’s facility, and these utility crews are not always familiar with the NEC, other building codes and TIA cabling standards. In this instance, the customer is potentially exposed to installations that violate applicable codes and cabling standards. It is our job as designers to recognize these challenges and make our client aware of their options.

Another significant challenge for these facilities is the upgrade of aging horizontal cabling technology. The cabling upgrade in these facilities often begins with a facility survey to understand the existing cabling system(s) and the limitation they present to the existing and future operations. Many of these facilities have several different cabling solutions, as the technology and cabling performance standards have evolved significantly over time. This includes pre-2000 era Cat3 and Cat4 cables, post-2000 era Cat5 and Cat5e cables, and current Cat6 and Cat6A building cables. Over time, campus buildings are fitted with the cable performance levels that were current at the time of construction.

In addition to improved performance, an advantage of updating cabling is the potential for the elimination of legacy PBX telephone systems to Voice over IP (VoIP) systems. One of the advantages of VoIP is the consolidation of equipment and cabling such that VoIP telephone services run over the data switched network rather than a separate voice system. POE is another compelling reason to upgrade cabling; larger conductors increase current-carrying capacity. Current WiFi standards provide for very high bandwidth requirements, which must be considered when discussing design scope and reasonable expansion considerations with the customer.

Some considerations when performing a survey within a multi-building campus-type facility include access to buildings, which many times must be scheduled to prevent unnecessary interruption to business services. The Out-Side Plant (OSP) cabling performance levels can be as varied as the cabling systems inside the buildings (FDDI [pre-1998], OM1, OM2 [pre-2009], OM3 and Singlemode). All of these design elements must be considered when determining project scope options and budget considerations.

It is important for us as design professionals to gather the customer’s design goals by actively listening, recognizing challenges, and asking appropriate questions for items such as future expansion plans, associated systems, and utility involvement. Throughout the project, we must apply current building code requirements and industry standards to provide the most cost-effective and flexible solutions possible.

HAWA strives to achieve and maintain relationships with our customers where we are recognized as trusted advisors, providing unique value and knowledge. We aim to be aware of current and developing standards and contractor methodologies, and we seek out appropriate continuing education to keep aware of developing standards and product offerings.

Want to find out how HAWA’s design engineers can take your project to the next level? Reach out today.

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