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Pay Attention to Your Comms Cable Install
Cabling, especially for those moving into new installations and having to make decisions about Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) delivery and how many drops should be installed, isn't getting any easier. Add in inferior and disreputable products and liability increases while performance degrades.
Ignoring fire codes when installing PoE, as well as in previous installations, is not acceptable. With PoE, more power will traverse the data network, and this heightens concerns about using contractors that are not well versed in installations.
Existing installations may fail scrutiny over openings and pathways for concealed wiring that makes it way back to the IDF or MDF. Improper or inadequate fire stopping and overfilling conduits with wire will require remediation.
The first issue is identifying inferior products, many of which are sold as certified and UL stamped with what appear to be legitimate markings and identifiers on the cable jacketing. Unfortunately, customers that buy on price alone often find the cost ends up being much higher in terms of life safety and performance. You can see some of the effects of inferior cabling in this Communications Cable and Connectivity Association (CCCA) video.
To help protect against bad cabling, the CCCA offers a free mobile app, available in the iTunes app store. This app scans the UL holographic label on cable boxes and provides additional steps to authenticate cabling over counterfeit wire.
Next, check the cable jacket for a UL mark such as (UL) CMP-E-XXXXX, and also be aware of the cable's weight. Cable weight varies, and it's important to know that if you have purchased Cat 6A cable and the 1,000 box of wire weighs 25 to 30 pounds, for example, then you have reason to worry. That's because Cat 6A weighs in around 35 pounds.
Other than physical characteristics, consider price. If it's unexpectedly low, that may signal inferior quality. And, always remember to check cabling before it's installed, not afterwards.
The next issue is assuring that you follow good installation practices. Legitimate communications cable manufacturers usually label boxes with fill rates or how many cables are permitted inside of a one-half, three-quarter, one-, three-, and four-inch conduit, for example. Avoid going beyond the fill rate and, with newer PoE applications that I wrote about here, do not go beyond the number of cables recommended for a bundle because you will then have cabling deteriorate because of heat. I also noted that the TIA found that reducing allowable bundle sizes -- of 52 cables for Cat 5e, 64 for Cat 6, and 74 for Cat 6A --by thirds or halves, reduces the temperature.
The other area of safety is the amount of cabling installed between floors or going through wall penetrations to other areas of a building. Fire stopping is often ignored or non-existent in some cases. In addition, when additional cabling is needed in the same areas, traditional fire stopping methods may prove challenging. STL Firestop manufactures a fire-rated pathway, called EZ-Path, that is good for existing and new installations. .
Enterprises are moving beyond Cat 5E and 6 cabling. With new power loads of today's communications wiring, the risks of using illegitimate products and contractors that shirk installation practices are increasing.