Auditing Cable

Importance of Third Party Testing

You’ve heard it a million times -- “you get what you pay for.” Why should this be any different when buying copper cable? Isn’t copper cable just wire? And isn’t all wire the same? Not so. Copper cable consists of inner conductors (copper wire) precisely measured to be the proper thickness (AWG) but also covered with a jacketing material that must meet the installed environment.  Unfortunately sub-standard cables are making their way into the marketplace that might not even pass for the lowest grade of Category 3 or POTS. Of even greater concern is that some of these cables don’t even meet proper fire-safety codes with the jacketing materials. This is why it is important to learn the value of quality cables – cables that undergo continuous auditing by third party test labs.

Testing and verifying cable.
Verifying cable The primary reason to assure that the communications cables you install meet the specified ratings is for public safety and saving any potential liability problems. The National Electric Code (NEC) contains “articles” which define specific types of premise cabling installed in buildings and cables must pass UL/NFPA flame tests to comply with these codes. In addition to safety, the cables must meet industry standards for specified electrical performance or could result in network failure.
Call in the experts
How can you be assured that the cable you buy and install meets (or exceeds) the specified standards and will operate at its maximum capacity? Bring in the experts – third-party independent labs to inspect and test. Well-reputable, third-party labs, such as Intertek, the world’s largest independent testing, inspection and certification provider, recognized as a Nationally Recognized Test Lab (NRTL) are able to test to standards and assign Verification and Safety marks, such as ETL. Verification and Safety marks are based on standards published by organizations like Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL),TIA, IEC, and ISO. In addition to product testing, third-party testing labs offer facility and manufacturing inspections, as well as on-going follow-up testing of randomly selected samples.
Third-party labs incorporate industry specific test methods to evaluate, inspect, verify and document. The most valuable testing program is verification testing. Berk-Tek, is the first manufacturer to utilize third-party, component-level verification through Intertek to certify that the claimed cable performance is being met.  In doing so, the LANmark™ family of Category 5e, 6 and 6a have shown to exceed the TIA/EIA-568-C and ISO/IEC 11801 standards that have traditionally served as the industry benchmarks.
Initial qualification of cable usually includes verification through a network analyzer performed by the third-party test lab that will authenticate that the cable meets or exceeds the industry standards called out in the TIA and or ISO to define the parameters or characteristics to be tested. Network analyzers offer extremely accurate results in a lab test environment  through mathematics and ongoing calibration. “For testing the cable and the entire channel, there are procedures within the network analyzer that exclude the effect of the interconnecting cables and connectors located between the analyzer and the device under test, so that only the device-under-test is precisely and accurately measured,” further explains Antoine Pelletier, Datacom Engineer at Intertek. The ETL Listed Mark is proof-of-product compliance (electrical, gas and other safety standards) to North American and International performance standards.
As a result of the verification program, Berk-Tek tested cables have tested above standards in electrical parameters, such as crosstalk and Berk-Tek has secured a position in the “Intertek Directory of ETL Verified and ETL Listed Cabling Products,” with a dedicated page to the LANmark family of UTP cables. In order to maintain the use of the verified mark, Berk-Tek undergoes ongoing auditing by Intertek, so that the facility is monitored and random samples are continually tested on a quarterly basis
Call off the dogs
In addition to third-party labs, an organization was formed to perform safety tests for cables that have made their way to the market but are not deemed as safe and do not perform to minimum standards. The Communications Cable and Connectivity Association (CCCA) recently released results of follow-up testing of eight cable samples (Category 5e and 6), manufactured offshore, but purchased from reputable U.S. distribution. Six out of the total eight cable samples failed to meet the minimum NFPA code requirements for low flame spread and/or smoke generation for installation in commercial buildings, schools and multi-tenant residences. These cables were also tested for minimum electrical performance required by industry standards for Category 5e and 6 cables, for which these cables claimed independent test certifications. Three out of eight samples failed to comply with the minimum electrical performance.
The CCCA is working with major independent telecommunications industry testing agencies to establish a stronger approach to assure compliance with safety standards. Hopefully, these new programs should close in on those non-standard cables and give users more confidence that the cable they are buying has passed a series of independent quality tests.
Only through the efforts of the watchdog organizations, such as CCCA and third-party testing companies, such as Intertek and UL, can end users be guaranteed that the cable products that they specify and install are certified to perform as advertised and provide assurance of safety and quality. Product failures can result in product disqualification unless corrections are made by the manufacturer and retesting is performed. 
When deciding upon network cable, follow the paper trail. This can be done by carefully examining the manufacturer’s data sheets and testing results from credible independent testing labs. When a cable passes these stringent tests, the legend on the cable jacket and on the box should be marked with the proper rating. A verification or certification mark by an approved third-party lab allows the manufacturer to label their products as compliant and assures the customer that the products they purchase meet the manufacturers’ specifications.

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Carol Oliver Berk-Tek Marketing Analyst