Smart Building

Do Complex Cable Problems Always Require Complex Solutions? (We Say 'No!')

Henry Franc

When you’ve got a challenge on your hands—compatibility issues, unexpected downtime, cable congestion or difficult moves, adds and changes—what do you do? Where do you start?

Sometimes we want to jump immediately to an engineered solution to solve our problems.: Something we’re proud of because we designed a product or solution that will solve all our challenges (in our minds, anyway). Sometimes these solutions require multiple steps, custom engineering and (probably) more money. We work in an industry that provides solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems—but do those solutions have to be equally complex?


This isn’t an inherently bad reaction, but the approach can sometimes complicate things. As I like to remind people: Sometimes there are penny solutions to dollar problems.


Occam’s razor problem-solving principle (often used in science) is an important tenet to remember: “The simplest solution is almost always the best.”


Or, as Confucius said: “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” By nature, humans often tend to prefer complication (called “complexity bias”).


Let’s consider a few real-world examples I’ve encountered lately.


Example No. 1: Color Coding


To differentiate between fiber types and systems, a customer recently wanted to install fiber cabling for six different applications in six special-order/made-to-order colors.


While differentiation is a great idea in this type of application, there were a few reasons we urged them to consider an alternative to deploying six different cable colors:


  • The minimum quantities required to manufacture a cable in a specific color are pretty high, which could result in cable waste (and unnecessary overspending)
  • Cable differences only need to be visible at certain points in your infrastructure; once the cable is run through the cable tray, for example, its color may not really matter (except where the cabling is administered—at the endpoints)
  • Managing six different cable colors increases the amount of cable that needs to be kept in stock and on hand
  • Complexity increases when using multiple cable colors; patch cords can’t be easily moved or changed, for example

Our point of view: There are more cost-effective ways to achieve the result the customer was looking for. To distinguish between cables and systems quickly and visually, different connector boot colors could be used instead of different cable colors. Labels or wraps in different colors could also be applied to the ends of the cables. Either of these options would be more cost effective, reduce complexity and make moves, adds and changes faster.


At the end of the day, if the customer really wanted six different cable colors, then we would make it happen. But it’s also our responsibility to share other options that could lead to the same outcome with much less cost, less hassle and fewer long-term ramifications.


Example No. 2: Pre-Terminated vs. Field-Terminated Cable


Deciding between pre-terminated and field-terminated solutions is another example. On the surface, pre-terminated solutions may seem to make sense if you’re working on a fast-track project with a tight timeline. But if you make this decision without considering all the options, you could end up spending lots of money.


There’s no doubt that pre-terminated solutions offer many benefits … in the right situations. Components are 100% factory terminated (or spliced) and tested before they’re shipped: Installers know they’re installing products that will work. Pre-terminated solutions also install much faster than field-terminated solutions.


Pre-terminated options work well where lengths are predictable and verifiable, and where access to the installation environment is limited or skilled resources aren’t readily available. 


Depending on your project, budget and goals, however, pre-terminated cable may not always be the best option:


  • It requires more pre planning (even though there are time savings during installation)
  • You must know all cable lengths upfront (with very accurate measurements)
  • By nature, lead times increase because each cable is designed according to your exact measurements

While there are significant advantages to pre-terminated cabling, the decision requires multiple considerations. Instead of defaulting to pre-terminated cabling solutions to save time, are there other ways you could address that need by considering different termination methods or materials selection? Perhaps selecting a smaller-diameter cable or finding a patch panel that can be installed by one person instead of two? If cable lengths are uncertain, or restrictions affect only part of the solution, perhaps a “half-pre-terminated solution” may be an option.


Just because a solution seems “better” on paper doesn’t always mean it’s the right fit for you. In this case, sometimes you’re better off simply pulling from a spool of cable at whatever lengths you need.


Put Your Money Where It Counts


Before you make a decision based on what seems to be best, stop to consider what other options may be available to achieve the same result. You want to solve the problem, of course— but you also want a solution that will be flexible, be scalable and help reduce human error and variance.


Belden can help you put your money where it counts, finding solutions to address your challenges and identifying alternatives to high-dollar solutions. Sometimes an engineered solution can be the best answer … but sometimes it isn’t. We’re here to have those conversations; we’ll start with your needs because they’re what’s most important. A solution that works for you may not be the best for everyone else. Your needs are unique: Shouldn’t your solution be, too?


When we work together from a needs perspective, you’ll be amazed at the solutions we can find to help you achieve your goals.