Modular multimedia outlets handle both copper and fiber cables

Feb. 1, 1997

Modular multimedia outlets handle both copper and fiber cables

Capable of accepting multiple types of cabling media, multimedia outlets offer flexibility and ease in creating and maintaining diverse wall-to-workstation interconnections for telecommunications applications

Barbara E. Thompson

To accommodate the different cabling media used in today`s telecommunications installations--copper, coaxial, and fiber-optic cable--component manufacturers have developed the modular multimedia outlet (MMO). These outlets are known as work-area outlets, information outlets, multimedia outlets, and more recently, multiuser telecommunications outlet assemblies, or mutoas. Moreover, they can also be used in open-office configurations.

Whatever name is used, the outlet is the point of connection between the horizontal, behind-the-wall cable and the work-area cable running to users` telephones and computers. It is critical, therefore, that the outlet enable easy cable installation and reliable connections.

"Ease of installation and reliability are important to me," says Bruce Foreman, technology service specialist at Fishel Technologies in Columbus, OH. "I`ve had trouble on occasion with opens in the patch panels or faceplate modules. Once that happens, you have to take off the cables and reterminate all of them."

Before modular devices were developed, an outlet introduced two additional connection points: at the workstation side and on the mating cable. With the modular outlet, the horizontal cabling does not have to be moved after it has been properly connected to the back of the outlet. The concept is that the multimedia outlet can provide a "frame" that accepts all types of cable or connector interfaces. Outlets can be readily configured and modified to meet customers` needs. To change or upgrade an installation, the existing modules are simply removed from the wallplate and replaced.

The tia/eia-568a standard for structured premises wiring recommends a minimum of two ports at each work-area outlet. The ports can be located side by side or over and under, but preferably in the same receptacle. With the advent of new technology and applications, such as videoconferencing and fiber-to-the-desktop, network planners and providers need more ports and different types of cabling brought to the desktop. Besides using patch panels in the telecommunications closet, fiber-optic and copper cables can be delivered to the desktop for voice, data, and video communications with the newer 6-, 12-, and 16-port multimedia outlets.

Multiple media

In using multimedia outlets, the media is cable--either unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) copper wire, shielded twisted-pair (STP) copper wire, screened twisted-pair (ScTP) copper wire, IBM Type 1, coaxial, F-type for cable-TV, or optical fiber. However, with telecommunications technology constantly evolving and changing, many network planners and providers contend that a multimedia outlet is one that supports Category 5 UTP copper and fiber-optic cable.

"The industry and technology are leaning toward a two-media solution: Category 5 UTP and 62.5/125-micron multimode fiber," says Tony Beam, director of systems marketing at AMP Inc. in Harrisburg, PA. "AMP is positioning itself as primarily supporting Category 5 and multimode fiber cable."

As Gregg LaFontaine, product manager at Hubbell Premises Wiring Inc. in Stonington, CT, puts it, "Most of the discussion today is to ensure [that] you can include fiber. The term [multimedia] should mean more of a broad application, but many people say that if you can have fiber and UTP together, then it`s multimedia."

At Panduit Corp. in Lockport, IL, the latest addition to its outlet product line is a multimedia fiber outlet, although it is not just for fiber. Andrew Caveney, product manager, network systems division, explains: "Our products accept all the different cabling out there--STs, dual SCs, Category 3, coaxial, audio jacks, and F for video--but this one is geared more toward Category 5 and fiber applications."

Some manufacturers take a different approach, however. According to Mike Lin, marketing manager at International Connectors and Cable Corp. in Cerritos, CA, "We have a new product--multiport system, or MPS--that has a variety of different modules, including BNC, cable-TV, Category 5, and fiber. They are all plug-and-play modular designs, and come in nine different colors," says Lin.

"The problem with coaxial [cable] is having enough space behind an existing box to get everything in," says Fishel`s Foreman. "Coaxial [cable] sticks out from the back of the faceplate and it`s difficult to maintain bend radius. In one school, we couldn`t get the faceplates back in."

Bend radius and storage

Another concern for installers is maintaining the correct bend radius for the cable; that is, 10 ¥ outside diameter (OD) for fiber, 10 ¥ OD for multipair (25-pair) copper and 4 ¥ OD for 4-pair UTP. The tia/eia-568a standard recommends that the [outlet] box have the ability to secure optical fiber at a minimum of 1.18 bend radius and a minimum storage of 1 m of 2-fiber or two buffered fibers.

Because the industry trend is toward a growing number of connections at the desk, the multimedia box is becoming larger, which makes it difficult to install in a small electric box that fits behind the outlet. Manufacturers are addressing some of these concerns by making higher-density, low-profile multimedia outlets, and most of these MMOs have a fiber spool for storing slack fiber.

For example, Panduit`s multimedia fiber outlet supports six terminations, and a bridge can be fitted to upgrade to 12 terminations. "You can store 12 m of buffered fiber," says Caveney, "and it`s a captive spool; that is, once the fiber is in place, it`s kind of locked in until you remove it. It keeps the fiber managed, and the cover has a tamper-resistant screw for security."

The hideaway outlet from AMP, according to Beam, "allows hands-off termination of Category 5 or Category 3 jacks. You can punch down the cable with a minimum amount of UTP jacket in the electrical box. It also has an easy-to-install fiber-slack loop outside the electrical box, which allows the outlet to be installed in the smallest electrical box."

Krone in Englewood, CO, offers a 16-port multimedia outlet. According to Brian Lee, product manager, "We`ve provided working space near the connector where it`s needed, plus a low sidewall design around the spool to allow easy access during installation. Our dual-spool design provides convenient separation of copper and fiber."

One concern with a modular-furniture environment is that sometimes the cableways in the furniture do not accommodate the bend radius for optical fiber. "If you`re going with optical fiber," says Paul Andres, executive vice president at mod-tap in Harvard, MA, "the outlet should be flush-mounted."

Hubbell`s LaFontaine recommends a surface box with a side exit for any medium. "First, if you exit [the cable] from the bottom, you`ve addressed the gravity issue. Second, a chair or a file cabinet slid against the outlet will hit the housing before it hits the connection; there`s more impact protection this way. People who have respect for their fiber will point the cable straight down from the outlet--and I`m talking about a 90° versus a 45° angle."

Installation concerns

Network planners, however, are concerned about costs, how long it takes to install the outlet, whether it passes Category 5 or fiber bend-radius tests, and wiring standards. "At Fishel, we are mostly concerned with ease of installation, reliability, and price," says Foreman. "Occasionally, we`ll have a customer who doesn`t care [about price] because he wants the best and has the budget to pay for it. Most of the time, it`s `here`s my wish list and here`s my budget. What can we do until next year`s budget?` "

Deciding what type of outlet to use and where to locate it will depend on the application, but these factors differ for new installations and retrofits. Many multimedia outlets can be mounted to a double-gang or a single-gang box. "Although it`s a surface-mount box," says Caveney, "many people will use it for in-wall applications because it provides cable protection, high density, and a fiber spool."

At the University of Vermont, however, Jerry Thornton, assistant manager, network services, says, "We`re not using multimedia outlets yet because the cable plant is still old. We do have a fiber backbone and, this past summer, we installed all Category 5 cables and a coaxial [cable] in each room (for future television)."

Network planners and providers specify modular multimedia outlets because they support legacy, current, and emerging wiring applications; provide an easy upgrade path without requiring excessive recabling or changes in hardware; handle several different applications, some with 16 ports that can be mixed and matched; and allow the use of standard and proprietary inserts, if necessary.

Additional features

Other multimedia outlet features offered are colored icons, bezels, labeling, and administrative accessories that help compliance with the tia/eia-606 installation standard. In addition, several manufacturers have recently incorporated more outlet capabilities, such as:

AMP`s hideaway outlet provides 45° UTP connections and 90° fiber-optic connections.

Hubbell`s AMO multimedia housing offers capacity for 12 fiber or UTP terminations with all connections exiting from the bottom.

Leviton Telcom in Bothell, WA, has a QuickPort multimedia outlet system that contains a dual-ring system on the surface-mount box that stores and manages the fiber loop and protects bend radii to each port.

Mod-tap`s PassPort family includes high-density wall plates and matching electrical duplex and switch-cover plates. The optical-fiber outlet installs "in seconds" and manages bend radius, fiber loops, and strain relief.

Ortronics Inc. in Pawcatuck, CT, has a workstation outlet, Fib-or-Cop, with six copper ports on the faceplate, six fiber connections in the base, and four ring clamps to manage the internal fiber cable.

The Siemon Co. in Watertown, CT, offers a CT multiuser/multimedia surface-mount box that accepts 6 CT couplers, 12 ports of mixed media, or 24 fiber ports.

The Wiremold Co. in West Hartford, CT, has a Communication Activation Series that installs into metallic and nonmetallic raceways, tele-power poles, and surface- and flush-mount boxes.

The technology, standards, and products in the telecommunications industry are constantly evolving. The latest outlet is the multiuser telecommunications outlet assembly, or mutoa, as defined by the Telecommunications Industry Association, for open-office architectures. It calls for the use of up to 15 m (50 feet) of patch cable from the outlet to the mutoa, or consolidation point next to the office furniture.

One reason for this new standard is the changing workplace rate in modular-furniture environments. A mutoa outlet makes cabling moves easier and less expensive, because the mutoa and the horizontal wiring do not have to be moved when the modular furniture is moved.

"The multiuser telecommunications outlet assembly allows you to run a patch cord from that consolidation point to the workstation instead of to the modular furniture," says Panduit`s Caveney.

Existing products have been developed for different wiring configurations. AMP`s Beam says that this is an area of opportunity to be addressed. He does not see existing products, as they are packaged now, meeting this need. "It will require a product specifically designed to meet the functional and architectural requirements for the open-office area." u

Barbara E. Thompson is associate editor at Cabling Installation & Maintenance, an associated publication of Penn Well Publishing Co., Nashua, NH. This article was adapted from an article that appeared in the November 1996 issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance.

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