Clarifying Cable Ratings

Understanding the terms and meanings

 Before diving into semantics of ratings and listings, let’s first differentiate between codes and standards. The basic difference is that codes are enforceable by law and standards are voluntary. Codes use terms such as “must,” whereas standards use “shall.” Codes basically tell you what you need to do and standards tell you how to do it. Codes, which are primarily written, adopted and enforced by the National Electric Code (NEC), ensure correct and safe installed products. These are also product standards, which include performance and construction criteria that go hand-in-hand with system standards, which are established to define installation requirements to fit the application from both a practical and economic standpoint in regards to design and maintenance.

The NEC contains “articles,” which cover specific types of premise cabling installed in buildings and cables must pass UL/NFPA flame tests to comply with these codes. When a cable passes these stringent tests, the legend on the cable jacket and on the box should be marked with the proper rating.
Importance of Cable Testing, Certification and Verifying
To assure the overall integrity and performance of the telecommunications cabling system (including all components), cables are tested, certified and sometimes, verified.  Proper testing maximizes the longevity of the system, minimizes downtime and maintenance and facilitates system upgrades or reconfigurations. Testing identifies any link or channel faults and verifies that the cable meets or exceeds specified standards requirements, establishes baseline performance at the time of installation, and establishes accountability.
Certification is the method of testing to assure the cable meets minimum defined transmission and performance properties. Copper cable certification is achieved through a thorough series of tests in accordance with Telecommunications Industry Associateion (TIA) or International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards. These tests are done using a certification-testing tool, which provide “Pass” or “Fail” information. This means that if a cable passes certification tests, then it should work properly with any network designed to operate over that defined (Cat 5e, 6, 6a) link. While certification can be performed by the owner of the network, certification is primarily done by datacom contractors. It is this certification that allows the contractors to warranty their work.
Verification and safety marks are based on standards published by organizations such as TIA, UL, IEC, and ISO. Verification testing can be requested from manufacturers, suppliers or even end users. A verification or certification mark by an approved third-party lab allows the manufacturer to label their products as such and assures the customer that the products they purchase meet the manufacturers’ specifications.A verifier will guarantee the cabling will support Ethernet. Third-party labs incorporate industry specific test methods to evaluate, inspect, verify and document. Third party labs are recognized by OSHA as NRTL’s (Nationally Recognized Test Laboratory), and further accredited by one or more organizations like ANSI, FCC and NIS  to be able to test to standards that provide for verification and safety marks.
UL vs. ETL Testing and Listed Marks
 ETL Marking on Category 6 UL Marking on coax
(Left)  ETL  Markings on Category 6 UTP  Cable                                               (Right)   UL Markings on Coax cable
 Both UL and ETL marks demonstrate that the product that bears it has met the minimum requirements of widely accepted product safety standards as determined through the independent testing of a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL). And, as part of a verification testing regime, the product manufacturer has agreed to periodic follow-up inspections to verify continued compliance.
The requirements by UL may be safety-  or performance-related. The UL Listed Mark on a product is the manufacturer's representation that samples of that complete product have been tested by UL to nationally recognized safety standards and are found to be free from reasonably foreseeable risk of fire, electric shock and related hazards. A product is UL Listed if the UL Listing Mark is on the product, accompanied by the manufacturer's name, trade name, trademark or other authorized identification.  In the UL system, the words "classified" and "verified" mean the same thing.
The ETL Listed Mark, provided through Intertek, the largest independent testing, inspection and certification partner,is an accepted alternative to UL and, as such, inspectors and AHJs recognize, acknowledge, and accept the mark as proof of product compliance. The ETL Listed Mark indicates that the product has been tested by a NRTL, found in compliance with accepted national standards, and is compliant with safety standards, having been tested and certified by a third-party organization and meets the minimal requirements required for sale or distribution. ETL tests assure that the cable passes all requirements in the official TIA standards.
UL Recognized and Classified
Both ETL and UL have extensive labs and testing procedures for component evaluation.UL Recognized Component Mark means that the component alone meets the requirements for a limited, specified use. UL's Component Recognition Service covers the testing and evaluation of component products that are incomplete or restricted in performance capabilities. These components will later be used in complete end-products or systems Listed by UL.
The UL Classified Mark appears on representative samples of products that UL has evaluated, but only with respect to specific properties, a limited range of hazards, or suitability for use under limited or special conditions. Typically, products Classified by UL fall into the general categories of building materials and industrial equipment.  
Buyer Be Aware
The cable markings, and associated test results, should be included of your cable purchase. So, make sure you have purchased cable with the proper safety markings and that these are backed by testing before you install it. Just like anything else, there are “knock-offs” that will try to pass as UL or ETL Listed. They may look like the “reel” deal, but could end up being a costly mistake if they are installed and don’t perform later.

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Carol Oliver Berk-Tek Marketing Analyst