When it comes to Ethernet cable, you get what you pay for. In a recent article, Networkworld reported on poor quality Cat5e and Cat6 cabling purchased through Amazon. This just goes to show that even reliable providers like Amazon can occasionally slip.
Apparently this particular cable had a cheap vinyl jacket and poorly stranded aluminum conductors. Oops!
If you’re new to Ethernet installs, you might be wondering: how can you tell the difference? Well, one easy identifier is price.
Poke around on Amazon a while and you’ll find the culprit. Its low price point prompted some customers into taking a chance, but it should have thrown off alarm bells. When you’re doing work in your own home that’s one thing, but installing in a customer’s place of business is entirely another affair. It’s just not worth the risk posed by cutting corners.
If you follow the comments chain, you’ll find more than one customer complains about cable failure. Others mention detaching connectors. When you’re paying independent contractors to job-in by the hour to run cable, the last thing you want is to run into problems with cable failures.
Let’s cover how you can avoid this downfall in your own installations. After all, it’s one thing to encourage the purchase of high quality cable; it’s another to define it.
The following are 5 ways you can ensure you’re investing in quality cable products.
1. Look for UL Markings on the Casing
One of the things you should look for, as a sign of quality, are the standard UL markings.
Underwriters Laboratory (UL) is a global, independent, safety science company. A non-profit, they focus on testing, inspection, certification, auditing and validation. Their goal is public safety. They work within numerous industries, developing standards aimed at ensuring manufacturers adhere to best practices.
So how can you tell if their standards have been followed to a T? Look for the following badges.
The UL mark tells the customer that the product has undergone and passed the proper tests. Testing is carried out in Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America.
Some pirates may seek to counterfeit the mark, so take a good look at them and commit them to memory. You can also go to the UL website to view valid variations of the badges.
2. Check to See If It’s Plenum-Rated
Another feature to check for, is a cable’s plenum-rating.
It should come as no surprise that oxygen can increase fire dangers. Plenum-Rated Ethernet Cables indicate a special low-flame, low-smoke insulation process required for any cable installed in air handling spaces.
It’s essentially a fire-retardant coating that substantially reduces hazards by preventing air from contacting and igniting the heat-soaked internals of a given cable.
Furthermore, the plenum-rated cables will emit a far less toxic smoke when burned. So in the case of an emergency, if your installation is in a location with a high density of human workers, plenum will be a necessity.
3. Check If It’s Pure Copper or Copper-Clad Aluminum
As with many cost-saving measures, it’s important to always weigh the costs and benefits carefully before making a decision.
One way manufacturers often cut costs on producing cabling is by using copper-clad (or dipped) aluminum wires instead of pure copper wires. As you might expect, this comes with a loss in quality.
What you might not expect, is the magnitude of that loss. One source is on record showing signals transmitted across copper-clad aluminum being only 60-68% as efficient as the same signals sent over copper wires.
What’s worse, is that the cheaper wires can overheat under a dense load. Something as simple as several LED lights attached to a primary cable can cause this problem to arise.
Last but not least, aluminum wires are more susceptible to breakdown over time, meaning they’ll need to be replaced far sooner than their pure copper counterparts will.
4. Look for TIA and IEC Standards
The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) have published a set of standards that address commercial buildings for telecom products and services.
These standards are collaborative, committee driven standards and ensure that the latest findings are adhered to in all new product development. Contributors are engineers and one area they focus heavily on is structured cabling.
As you may have guessed, structured cabling standards are guidelines by which a structure is expected to be cabled. There are actually 6 components to structured cabling.
- Entrance Facilities (EF) contact point with ISP provider
- Equipment Room (ER) centralized telcomm for campus
- Backbone Cabling interconnecting and subsystem cables
- Telecomms Room (TR) and Telecomms Enclosure (TE)
- Horizontal Cabling (Cabling Subsystem 1)
- Work Area (WA)
Since 100-ohm twisted-pair cabling (Cat5e and Cat6) are the largest part of these structure guidelines, it is therefore critical that the cabling itself be durable and high-quality.
Incidentally, the lifespan of a typical cabling system is roughly 16 years. Makes sense then that high quality cabling can save your customers a lot of money in the long run!
The other important standard to consider is put forth by the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission). The IEC is part of a combined effort between ISO/IEC/IEEE 8802-3:2014 to protect consumers.
These standards target network operation for selected speeds of 1 Mbps to 100 Gbps. Look for manufacturer literature supporting these standards as part of product development.
5. Be Careful Where You Buy
Once you know what to look for, you can buy your cables just about anywhere without hesitation, with one caveat. Always consider the manufacturer name.
UL does serve Asia, Europe, North America and South America, but you’ll still want to be cautious before buying. If something appears dicey or too good to be true, it probably is.
It’s better to pay more up front for quality cable than it is to repair unnecessary fire damage down the road.
Your customers’ financial investments, and the time and effort it costs you to install Ethernet Cable networks, make it critical that things are done right the first time. Things that can always go wrong no matter how well prepared you are, but penny-wise thinking when it comes to cable installations is a path fraught with peril.
We trust you found this information valuable. Please feel free to call us if you’ve got questions about PoE system installs. Our engineers will be happy to advise you and your technicians.