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Wire and Cable Manufacturing Quality and the Counterfeit Cables Issue

Recently, L-com bought a competitor’s Category 5e 24 AWG Ethernet cable to find out why it was cheaper than our equivalent cables.  What we found out will amaze you.

What is counterfeit cable?

Counterfeit cable is any cable sold under false pretenses. Usually this means the cable specification does not match the actual product construction. Another possibility is to imply that a cable meets a particular performance standard such as Category 5E or CMP/Plenum rated.  In the case of the Category 5e 24 AWG Ethernet cable that L-com bought, the cable was actually 26 AWG copper-clad aluminum. The cable also did not meet the Category 5E specification for electrical performance.  In fact, we were so concerned we paid a private, independent testing lab to double check. Click here to see the 14-page report they wrote.

What does this mean to you?

Anyone can make a cheaper cable.  Common methods include:

  • Copper-clad-aluminum or steel instead of pure copper wires
  • Gold flash on contacts instead of 30 or 50 micro-inches of gold
  • Jackets can be made with less fireproofing materials than claimed
  • The cable might state 24 AWG but is actually made from 25 or 26AWG

Cable assemblies have four basic ingredients: copper, oil, gold, and labor.  Anyone can make any cable cheaper by substituting or reducing one of these ingredients.  But what is the true cost of getting a cheaper cable?

    Cable passed off as pure copper but is actually copper-clad-aluminum.
Cable passed off as pure copper but is actually copper-clad-aluminum.

Aluminum and steel have much higher resistance than copper, resulting in increased data loss and low transmission speeds. A different way to think of this is if an installer adds a high resistance CCA cable to an existing installation, although  the cable might only be 5-10 feet in length, to the network it was as bad as adding another 100 feet of cable.

Gold flash on connectors quickly rubs off, especially for patch cables. In one competitor’s cable that L-com tested, the return loss was -12 dB due to the poor connection.  This can result in a measurably slower network and even dropped connectivity.  An IT person’s worst nightmare is intermittent connections, and sub-standard cable is often the root cause.

Often we hear people say, “But it works for my system.”  To that we say yes, the light indicating a connection has been made does turn on, but does that mean that communication is working properly or efficiently?  Picture being in a large room, when a co-worker across the rooms yells something to you, you hear only 50% of what they said.  What do you do?  You’d probably ask them to repeat the request.  Your network does the same thing when transmitting over sub-standard cable.

In a building, some spaces are defined as being air plenums and, as a result, require the usage of “Plenum” (UL CMP) rated or “Riser” (UL CMR) rated cables.  Examples of these spaces include air ducts, vertical shafts, below raised floors and above drop ceilings. Fire in any one space can “leap” from room to room or even from floor to floor by burning along the cable lines, confounding fire prevention efforts and endangering anyone who works there.  Installing counterfeit cable opens up the installer and the company to potential liability.

And this problem is much more common than you think!

L-com found counterfeit cables from both big and small manufacturers, and from both domestic and oversea sources. Made in the USA means nothing if the cable is made with poor components in order to get to a cheaper price point. If price is your priority, someone can always make a cable cheaper. It doesn’t matter where a cable is made, but how the cable is made.

The L-com Difference

L-com is not just an importer of cabling products, we use the right stuff.  We check our cable assemblies. We insist on component cable manufacturers proving UL compliance.  We also build and test our own patch cables. We insist on pure copper wire for our Ethernet patch cables. We insist on 50 micro-inches of gold on our Ethernet connectors. We send our product managers, veterans in the cabling industry, to the manufacturing site to ensure our products are made to our standards. Knowing the materials is what makes L-com the right choice for your cable needs.

The bottom line:

When someone tells you they can make a cable cheaper, ASK WHY! What did they compromise to get you that price? What are you compromising by buying it?

Call L-com Today at 1-800-341-5266 or visit our web site at L-com.com.

Gold flash on RJ45 contact has degraded, eroding connectivity.
Gold flash on RJ45 contact has degraded, eroding connectivity.
L-com connectors with 50 microinches of gold do not degrade.L-com connectors with 50 microinches of gold do not degrade.
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