1. Global trends impacting physical infrastructure in 2021?

National and regional governments are investing in new infrastructure where information technology (IT) and Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) is now a key component of these development plans. Large municipal governments, in particular, are spending more on Smart City projects that provide unique advantages. IT infrastructure developments are gaining momentum, as established and emerging technology applications are adopted by the forward-thinking regions.

 
The top 100 cities investing in smart initiatives in 2019 represent around 29% of global spending, whether this growth can be sustained due to the current pandemic reducing economic activity among all spenders is yet to be seen. 
 
Use cases related to resilient energy and infrastructure represented over one-third of the opportunity, driven mainly by smart grids. Data-driven public safety and intelligent transportation represented around 18 percent and 14 percent of overall spending respectively.  Looking at the largest use cases, smart grids (electricity and gas combined) still attract the largest share of investments, although their relative importance will decrease as the market matures and other use cases become mainstream. Fixed visual surveillance, advanced public transportation, intelligent traffic management, and connected back-office follow, and together these five use cases currently represent over half of the investment opportunity.
 
BIM & BMS – Building Information Models and Building Management Systems
As BIM models advance and become interoperable this is driving evermore technology integration into building operation. Ultimately the goal is to develop interoperability between BIM, BMS, IT, IoT and manufacturing based on open standards. As this evolves, one estimate is that more than one billion sensors and connected devices will be deployed globally in buildings by 2021, alongside the billions of mobile connected devices brought into buildings by tenants, workers and visitors.
 
Outlook for Smart City Applications Growth
Analysts now believe that many governments are moving to incorporate Smart City use cases into budgets, or financing efforts through more traditional means, which is helping to grow further investments.
 
Looking to the future, more IT infrastructure investment will focus on new technology applications such as artificial intelligence (AI) combined with the internet of things (IoT) and 5G wireless communications.
 
 
2. What are the implications of WiFi 6 on cabling infrastructure design?
 
Category 6A cables are the fastest-growing cabling segment on the market and are recommended for wireless deployments because they are standardised for 10GBASE-T and provide optimal PoE (Power over Ethernet) performance. For best practice, Panduit recommends Category 6A cables for WiFi 5 and higher applications.
 
WiFi 7 and the Future
The next generation WiFi 7 is currently referred to as extremely high throughput (EHP) and a standard is being defined by the IEEE 802.11be Task Force. While WiFi 6 and WiFi 7 currently can only operate in the 2.4 and 5 GHz spectrums, the FCC plans to allow a new spectrum between 5.925 and 7.125 GHz to open up for Wi-Fi. This new spectrum has 1200 MHz of additional bandwidth as compared to the existing 500 MHz bandwidth in the 5 GHz spectrum and 90 MHz bandwidth in the 2.4 GHz spectrum. 
 
In addition to the new bandwidth, the IEEE 802.11be Task Force is exploring WiFi 7 technologies such as coordinated orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA), coordinated null steering, and distributed MIMO to enhance beam forming and employ massive multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO).
 
The 802.11be Task Force has a stated objective to use two Category 6A cables per access point to support the required bandwidth and to use an existing and common cable type.
 
WiFi 6 Advantages
WiFi 6 continues to offer numerous advantages over WiFi 5, which for any organisation planning smart building and smart environment infrastructure allow end device data rate improvement of speed up to 4x. More advantages from OFDMA, beamforming, and improved modulation allows for improved data rates for end devices, which include increased capacity. 
 
Improved performance in in-situ many device environments will benefit from OFDMA, improved MIMO, and beamforming to help improve total capacity, as well as improved performance in environments utilising the 2.4 GHz band which will benefit IoT devices. For many of these end devices manufacturers have increased battery life and Wi-Fi 6 employs a “target wake time” (TWT) feature and directs the Wi-Fi radio when to sleep and wake up to receive its transmission. This reduces power consumption with no impact on performance. Whilst, OFDMA is improving latency performance across the network to under 1ms.
 
 
3. Are we going to see the end of copper in data centres now?
 
With Category 8 availability and its capability to deliver 40Gb on RG45 connectivity, there is still life for copper. The key is if the hardware manufacturers and their customers decide whether the alternative cabling systems offer a comprehensive enough solution, in respect of cost and capability to render copper redundant.
 
Stuart McKay, Business Development Manager, Enterprise Technologies, Panduit EMEA