When most people think of counterfeit and substandard cable, they think of bulk cable and their backbone and horizontal runs. But don’t underestimate the importance of patch cables in your channel. Patch cables are the most overlooked component of the channel link. Remember the saying, “A chain is only a strong as its weakest link?” The same principle applies to the channel link. If a patch cable is non-compliant, it can ruin expensive electronics, invalidate warranties, cause poor network performance, and lead to a loss in productivity. Risky business.
The CCCA did large-scale performance testing of Category 6 copper patch cords. Test results showed an 85% failure rate in cables produced offshore by companies who are largely unknown in North America. 78% of the failing samples failed NEXT tests by a margin of 3 dB or more. A second sample set of Category 6 copper patch cords produced by multiple, well-recognized manufacturers was also tested and showed a 0% failure rate.
Other patch cord issues include non-compliant plugs that don’t meet requirements. Problems can include substandard gold plating on the contacts, plating that erodes and corrodes, and contact spacing and dimensional issues that can cause intermittent connections and link loss. If you have poor network performance, the cost to identify the problem and to replace all your patch cables could be quite expensive indeed.
How can you spot substandard patch cable?
Patch cables are usually not supplied by the structured cabling installer but instead they’re often purchased by someone in the IT department, who frequently buys them on-line based on price. Just because a cable is advertised as CAT6, it doesn’t mean it’s compliant. Your first tip-off that a cable is substandard is price. If it’s significantly less than what you would expect to pay at Black Box (or any other brand-name manufacturer), it’s probably counterfeit. In a recent sampling of patch cable on the Web, we found significant differences in prices. For a 3-foot CAT5e cable, our suspect cable came in at $.85 as compared to $5.45 for our premium GigaBase® cable. For CAT6 cable, we found a 3-foot cable priced at $1.10 as compared to $9.45 for our premium GigaTrue® cable. These low prices are a serious indication the cable is substandard.
Another way to check for inferior cable is to smell it. Some non-compliant cables have a plasticizer issue with the jacketing, which can produce a bad odor. See if the cable feels oily or too stiff. Both are indicators of counterfeit cable. Check the modular plug. It should be intact and not cracked. It should also be made for a fire-resistant plastic. To test this, put a lighter to the clip. If it catches fire and does not self-extinguish, it is substandard. The gold contacts should not be too shiny. Often substandard contacts appear shinier than true gold contacts. Lastly, check the boot to make sure it is not pinching or crushing the cable.