A growing concern in the data cabling industry is that of counterfeit cabling known as Copper Clad Aluminium (CCA) being disguised as Category rated cables. While these cables may look similar to (and be advertised to perform as) genuine Cat 5e, Cat 6 or Cat 6a cabling, there are consequential differences that if installed will often cause network connectivity problems and a potential safety concern to your business.
Typically sold as a cheaper and cost-effective alternative to Pure Copper Cable, CCA cables do not comply with any British or European standards and as such are not permitted to be used for network installations.
These cables are usually sourced from obscure manufacturers and electrical wholesalers who have no formal compliance or certification for their products. Due to electrical contractors now being the obvious installers for a considerable amount of data cabling work, they are often very cost-driven and on many occasions, use these cables to give them a competitive advantage being able to undercut competitors.
Generally speaking, where customer specifications do not detail the requirement for any compliance, this is when companies can potentially take advantage and substitute quality for cost. With the ever-increasing cost of living and rise in construction materials, many customers are having to work with tight budgets therefore, finding a data cabling company with the lowest price is more appealing. However, they might not know they’re in for a recipe for failure.
Compared visually side by side, CCA and pure copper cable doesn’t look any different, even when stripped back down to the cable jacket, you can’t spot the differences – so how can you compare these two types of cable?
Since aluminium is less costly compared to copper, CCA cable is generally cheaper to buy than copper due to it having an inner aluminium conductor that is coated with copper, making it much lighter in weight. With CCA cable being manufactured at a much lower cost, it offers higher profits to manufacturers in selling the product, hence the reason being mostly marketed at and sold to electrical wholesalers.
Due to its poor flexibility, CCA cables are very brittle and break easily – it has been noted that upon testing that the copper conductor on faceplates and patch panels have been known to break-off as a result of inserting RJ45 connectors. Since aluminium is very reactive and oxidises when exposed to air, cable terminations often fail as a result, leading to future connectivity problems and expensive labour time spent in order to locate these failures.
Furthermore, CCA cables are not suitable for PoE applications due to its higher DC resistance and conductors being up to 60% bigger than pure copper cable to compensate for higher resistance. Higher DC resistance can cause radiant heat to build up when cables are bundled together, potentially starting a fire or damage to a PoE device.
With cable length and distance limits of up to 50 metres, signal strength and data transmission is greatly reduced when using CCA cables and do not perform the same as solid copper which are able to perform up to 90 metre permanent link distances. This can lead to sluggish connectivity, poor network performance and data loss due to the fact that more packets of data are required to be transmitted.
There are a number of ways to spot if your installer is using counterfeit cable. The most common way (prior to installation) is to strip back the coating of the conductors (twisted pairs) and scrap at the copper to see if it exposes aluminium underneath. However, this may not be the most ideal method, for example if the cable has already been installed and is part of a large installation, the best way of knowing would be using network cable certification testing equipment.
Typically installers that are using CCA cables will not test using ‘industry standard’ certification testing equipment. In fact, when testing an installation where CCA cables have been used, each and every cable has been known to fail on DC Resistance Unbalance, which is a requirement set by both ANSI/TIA and ISO/IEC standards as well as IEEE standards.
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