A Guide to Updating Telecommunications; How to Get Ready for Phone and Data Systems in the Office of the Future

By Zarowin, Stanley | Journal of Accountancy, December 1991 | Go to article overview
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A Guide to Updating Telecommunications; How to Get Ready for Phone and Data Systems in the Office of the Future


Zarowin, Stanley, Journal of Accountancy


Talk's not cheap. And with telecommunications technology becoming more sophisticated and critical to the success of a business, managers must focus more on finding economical ways to get the best equipment to meet their growing communications needs.

In general, planning a telecommunications network for an office is not a do-it-yourself project because the field is complex and highly specialized. Unless someone in an organization has the time and aptitude to pursue the subject, it's best to turn to a telecommunications consultant. The price of a mistake can be very high--not just in dollars wasted on the wrong equipment, but in the resultant office chaos.

This article focuses on the steps office planners--either at CPA firms or in industry--should consider to get maximum performance from the communications equipment that is available today and to be ready to upgrade painlessly to tomorrow's technology.

Communication these days means more than just being able to talk on the telephone. It means transmitting data files--incorporating words, numbers and graphics--from one computer to another, from one office to another and to and from a CPA in the field. It also means being able to search for answers in remote databases or in a client's computer.

The following advisories, while hardly designed to make an accountant expert in office telecommunications, should provide some of the basic background needed when confronted with the complex task of guiding an upgrade in the office communications network.

WIRED FOR THE FUTURE

Critical to how high-tech an office can be is the choice of wiring that connects an office's telephones and computers. Pick the wrong kind or install it incorrectly and an entire telecommunications system could be an expensive disaster.

Telecommunications consultants say the wiring should have the capacity to handle conventional telephone talk and computer communications simultaneously. Such a setup, while initially more expensive, in the long run works out to be far more economical than separate phone and computer installations.

Also, a facility that installs the wrong wiring may not be able to upgrade or expand either its telephone system or computer network without an expensive replacement of the entire wiring network. Office planners have three wiring options:

* Twisted-pair wire is common telephone wire, used in most older installations. It's the least expensive and can handle limited data traffic for telephones or computers.

Such wire is adequate for the smaller office, but an office planning significant expansion should step up to a wiring system with greater capacity.

* Coaxial cable has far more capacity than twisted-pair wires. It's also more expensive since it comprises a bundle of wires, each insulated from the other. There are several different kinds of coaxial cable and not all are compatible with all phone networks. Three-quarters of computer network problems stem from incompatible cable choices.

Coaxial cables come in two basic configurations: those that transmit analog signals (adequate for all but the most advanced applications except video transmissions) and digital (a newer design, which can handle the most up-to-date communications, including video). Selecting the more advanced digital cable provides more flexibility in choice of telephones and other communications equipment.

One of the biggest pluses of coaxial cables is they are relatively immune to outside electrical interference; that's very important in an office crowded with electronic equipment.

* Fiber-optics cable, the state-of-the-art technology, is used in the most modern telephone-computer transmissions. It has a huge data-transmission capacity and is totally immune to electronic interference. However, its price is higher than coaxial cable and installation can be difficult.

Technology-savvy office planners generally opt for the more costly coaxial or fiber-optics cables; they know they will be upgrading networks from time to time and it's far more economical to install the best wiring at the outset.

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