Overpromising & Underdelivering: How Cutting-Edge Tech Is Often a Waste of Money

We are all familiar with the business mantra imploring you to “underpromise and overdeliver”.

The concept is that by managing expectations in such a manner that you are positioned to exceed them, you stand a greater likelihood of leaving behind a happy customer.

Or spouse, or child, or co-worker, as the concept really works anywhere in life. But what do you do when you are positioned to do the reverse, not by work ethic but by design?

Case in point: I was recently contacted by an integrator on a cabling issue, and as I have run into variations on this specific incident before, I thought I would share it here.

He’s working on a government project and their IT department will not accept anything lower than plenum-rated CAT6a.

As you may know, CAT6 cable is rated for distances of 100 meters, or 328 feet, for speeds up to 1000BASE-T, but only 37 meters to 55 meters (121 feet to 180 feet) for 10GBASE-T, depending on the installed environment.

With its improved specifications, CAT6a extends the distance for these higher-speed signals to the 100 meter limit as well. So if you’re running 10 G signals over distances greater than 100′ or so, CAT6a is the way to go — or fiber, but that’s another story.

The problem is that in this application the better performing cable offers absolutely no advantage. The cable is being used to carry signals from IP-based cameras to concentration points.

The IP cameras use, on average, 3 Mbs; even if we figure that signal size would increase a hundred-fold and double that to give us headroom, we’re still in the sweet spot for plain old CAT5e cable.

You could make a case for using a higher bandwidth cable for rack wiring or for the cable runs from the concentration points to the head end, but for individual camera runs, it’s silly.

But I can hear the comments already. Why not go for the better cable? What’s the harm?

Here is what I think is wrong with this:

  • It’s a waste of money. The integrator is spending $850 for a box of CAT6a plenum-rated cable. CAT5e cable is about $200 for a box. With multiple cable runs, the cost adds up quickly.
  • It is harder to work with. Thicker cable is harder to pull, harder to terminate, and needs more expensive tools to terminate and certify.
  • The accessories must match. All connectors, patch panels, parts, and accessories must also be rated for CAT6a. The selection is more limited, availability is tougher, and the signal chain is only as good as the weakest link.

Added cost
So the promise of the higher-performance cable offers no benefits, even when factoring in “future proofing” — does anyone really need cabling that is rated for 3,300 times more bandwidth than the signal it is designed for?

What we’re left with is added cost, and the risk that something will negate that added, unused bandwidth anyway. All it would take is a CAT5e patch cord and all is for naught.

My point is that somebody, somewhere, enticed this end-user with the lure of state-of-the-art technology. They were promised advantages to being on the cutting edge, and they’ll never see them.

It’s hard to believe that the money couldn’t have been put to better use somehow — higher-quality cameras, more storage capacity, larger monitors, or even comfier seats for the operators using the system. Something that would deliver on their expectations, not squander them.