Copper Cable Crap Shoot

Get Reel June 2009

High-quality Berk-Tek Copper Cables

 In this economy, everyone is looking for a deal, even in network UTP cable. However, saving a few dollars today may mean spending millions of dollars later. Trusting lower-priced cables that have not met U.S. minimum requirements for performance and safety becomes a “cable crap shoot” for the building owners to pay later – not only in replacement costs but even worse, paying for it in lives. Installing cable that does not meet National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes can be disastrous. “Fire sale” takes on a whole new meaning.

Standards vs. Codes
In the structured cabling industry, there are standards and codes. Standards are created as a guideline to enable interoperability. Standards define performance parameters and classify cable types in regards to distances, termination, electrical performance and best practices for installation. Many U.S. manufacturers, such as Berk-Tek, offer cables that operate well beyond standard specifications, which achieve higher bandwidths, better cable balance and greater cable headroom, ultimately leading to higher performance and a longer life cycle for the entire network (as long as mated with high-grade connectivity and best installation practices).
Codes, on the other hand, MUST be followed for safety. Codes are enforced by law and regulatory powers. The purpose of codes, according to NFPA is to minimize the risk of electricity as a source of electrical shock or as an ignition source of fires and explosions and hazards that could occur due to sub-standard cabling. The National Electric Code (NEC) also specifies that cables must meet specified material testing (i.e. cable jacketing) for flammability, smoke generation, opaqueness of smoke and the amount of toxic gasses under flame. 
Beware of the Big Bad Wolf
The old adage, “if it looks and walks like a duck, it must be a duck,” does not hold true with cable. More succinctly is that it could be a big bad wolf in sheep’s clothing. There are cables on the market that may be labeled as meeting standards and codes, but do not. Most recently the Communications Cable and Connectivity Association, Inc. (CCCA) reported findings that many offshore-manufactured communications cable products did not meet performance standards or safety codes and could present significant fire risks. They commissioned an independent laboratory to analyze nine such samples and found that none of the nine fully complied with TIA-568-B minimum requirements. In addition, eight failed the NFPA code requirements for low flame spread and/or smoke safety requirements.
The Category 5e and 6 cables selected for the tests were procured from North American distributors who were under the impression that these were reputable cable brands. Lab results showed that these cables were manufactured with inferior materials, which allowed them to go on the market at a lower cost, but creating fire safety risks, once installed. These cables, which are installed behind walls, could go undetected as dangerous, but could be catastrophic to inhabitants due to their flame and smoke characteristics, or lack thereof.
These cables also violate the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 which can impose a maximum civil penalty to $15 million for a person who knowingly “manufactures for sale, offers for sale, distributes in commerce or imports into the United States any consumer product, which is not in conformity with an applicable consumer product safety standard…” (Section 2068)
(CCCA, a non-profit corporation, formed in 2007 to serve as a major resource for well-researched, fact-based information on the technologies and products of structured cabling media and is proactive at codes and standards bodies affecting the quality, performance and societal needs of the structured cabling infrastructure. See test results on-line:
Beware of smoke and mirrors
Reputable manufacturers provide proof of in-process testing, as well as documentation that their cable has been manufactured to meet the latest codes and standards. Berk-Tek backs their products with numerous tests during and after manufacturing to make sure that all cable produced in their factories meets or exceeds both material and electrical characteristics. 
Quality cable begins and ends in manufacturing. At Berk-Tek all raw material is bought from reputable vendors to assure consistent high quality. Tests are constantly performed on-the-line. During the extrusion process there are monitoring devices connected to computerized control panels designed to measure and control various parameters. Among these parameters are: outside diameter – conductor and insulation; eccentricity/concentricity; capacitance; and, spark faults (AC detector). After the cable is twisted, line operators are required to sample the wire that they produce to ensure that it meets all quality parameters. Some of the test procedures performed on a sample include: conductor tensile and elongation; insulation tensile and elongation; off-line capacitance; strip force and, concentricity. After the cable is jacketed, it must pass “electricals.” Samples are submitted to the QA lab to ensure the electrical standards. Once it passes through the lab, the product is then labeled with a legend for each product including what Category it is, its electrical capabilities, and safety ratings.
As proof of their excellent manufacturing practices and procedures, Berk-Tek recently announced their new ETL LANmark Verification Program that provides customers with independent third-party test results, confirming that their LANmark™ family of Category 5e, 6 and 6a cables exceed the TIA/EIA-568-B.2 and ISO/IEC 11801 standards and also meet our own published specification. With this program, Berk-Tek becomes the first manufacturer to establish this level of testing with Intertek, the world’s largest independent testing, inspection and certification provider and proprietary of the ETL Verification Mark.  Test results are found on-line:
Pay now or pay later
So, the bottom line is the bottom line. You can pay for quality cable now or pay massive penalties later if you choose sub-standard cable. Or, even worse, you could be paying for lives lost due to cable that was installed in environments, such as a plenum, that do not meet the required flame and smoke ratings. Ask to see the test results of the cables before putting one dime down. It just makes good “cents” to protect your investment and your assets.

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Carol Oliver Berk-Tek Marketing Analyst