Designing Today’s TRs: Embrace the Space

Anyone in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry that deploys network cabling infrastructure has likely encountered situations where the telecommunications room (TR) is not designed with enough space to properly accommodate today’s converged and integrated IP-based systems. And even when the building architect has allocated enough space to squeeze it all in, adequate cooling and backup power needs are also often overlooked by MEP engineers designing these systems without technology expertise.

Lack of TR space and inadequate design of supporting infrastructure have long plagued contractors tasked with installation. In fact, in a previous poll by Cabling Installation & Maintenance, 85% of respondents said that half or fewer of the TRs they work in have enough square footage, with 28% of respondents stating that less than 10% of TRs allow for comfortable work. But in reality, the price per square foot and cost of ensuring a properly-designed TR space are not nearly as expensive as the consequences for the end user.

No Longer Just Voice and Data

Disparate systems of the past often meant that a TR only had to support equipment and connections for voice and data applications, but that is no longer the case. With the proliferation IP-based communications and the convergence of systems and devices onto Ethernet cabling systems, the average TR now supports everything from security and audiovisual, to lighting, distributed antenna systems and building automation. And all these systems converging in the TR means more equipment, more connections, more heat, and more power than ever before in these spaces.

While one might argue that Wi-Fi and other mobile technologies have significantly reduced the number of network drops needed to support wired connections to computers, the number of other devices on the network has increased so much over the past decade that the total number of drops supported by a single TR is at an all-time high. And given the digital era we live in with an increasing IoT and smart building mentality, the number of devices that reside on the network will continue to increase.

Potentially Devastating Consequences

When the TR doesn’t have enough space to properly house the equipment and connections for all of the systems it supports within a given area of a facility, it doesn’t just impede the ability of a contractor to comfortably carry out their work. Cramped TR space also leads to cramped cabling with improper bend radius that can degrade transmission performance and hinder cable management, making MAC work more cumbersome and costly. Lack of space also significantly hinders growth and the ability to add new systems and technologies in the future without having to undergo extensive renovation.

Cramped cabling in and around equipment in the TR also prevents proper airflow. Add to that inadequately designed cooling for the heat load, and the result is an environmental condition in the TR that increases risk of equipment failure and long-term cost due to decreased reliability and lifespan.

It’s important to note that in our connected world, ICT is now considered the 4th utility – as critical an infrastructure, if not more critical, than electricity, water, and HVAC. It is truly the central nervous system of any modern business. TRs that are not designed to maintain operations at all times via dedicated power and cooling systems with adequate capacity and redundancy risk costly downtime.

So What’s the Answer?

Building architects and MEP engineers should focus on technology during the design phase of a building project, either via a dedicated technology division or consulting firm with design engineers that hold a BICSI Registered Communications Distribution Designer® (RCDD) certification. To that end, TRs should always be designed as part of a critical infrastructure and in accordance with industry standards like BICSI’s Telecommunications Distribution Methods Manual (TDMM) that sets minimum requirements for TRs.

For example, it is recommended that every TR be connected to back-up generators rather than relying on limited UPS power. This is especially important considering critical security system devices like surveillance cameras that are also now powered over the network via power over Ethernet (PoE). There are also new e911 regulations that require networked telephones to be functioning and locatable at all times. TRs should also have plenty of space to accommodate equipment and connections with a minimum ceiling height of 10 feet (no ceiling preferred), a minimum of 3.5 feet of clear unobstructed space in front and rear of racks, and the use of outward-swinging or double doors for entrances. A properly designed TR will also take heat loads, redundancy, and growth into consideration, ensuring enough space, cooling and capacity to support future technologies and redundancy for maximum uptime.

Unfortunately, a focus on technology and the use of an RCDD doesn’t always happen on every construction project. As an end-user looking at a total cost of ownership and striving to ensure sustainability, or as an architect who has your clients’ best interest in mind, it’s up to you to specify an RCDD who can properly design the ICT system and ensure enough space and capacity for TRs throughout a facility. The additional cost per square foot and capacity to properly design TRs is nominal in the larger scheme of a project—and far less expensive than the consequences.