Counterfeit cables: spotting the fakes
Author: Sean McGrath
Date Written: 05 July 2013
Title: Counterfeit cables: spotting the fakes
Counterfeit cables are spiralling out of control and are permeating the market at such a rapid rate that they are almost impossible to avoid. While it might be tempting to buy cabling at discounted prices, it is important to remember that counterfeiters do not produce cables for the purposes of passing on savings. They have only one objective and that is to make money.
That means that if there is a corner which can be cut, it will be. The market has been flooded to such an extent that it is predicted as much as 20 per cent of all cabling sold is either counterfeit or unapproved.
It might be difficult to believe that a simple Cat 5 cable could pose a threat to an organisation; but the truth is counterfeit cabling could bring a company to its knees.
Cat 5e cables carry around 25 Watts of power for basic uses such as IP phones or wireless access points. In corporate installations, where cables are heavily bundled, the heat generated can be significant.
As well as the direct risk of fire from counterfeit cabling, there is also the risk that is posed should a fire break out elsewhere in the building. Recent testing carried out by the Communications Cable & Connectivity Association (CCA) found that counterfeit cables frequently failed fire resistance tests and that poor quality cables were not only highly flammable but produced significantly more smoke than approved products.
In an emergency situation, where cabling is frequently only a few millimetres behind plasterboard, the use of counterfeit solutions could directly result in a loss of life.
While safety should be any organisation's primary concern, performance and compliance should also be taken into account. In an effort to drive down cost, counterfeiters often use copper-clad aluminium instead of annealed copper. This can result in sub-standard network performance, can ruin equipment, network infrastructure and can breach compliance policies, both internal and external.
Spotting a fake
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is the global leader in electrical safety standards and their certification is the very first thing that should be checked. Each cable should have a UL number printed on it as well as a UL mark. The number can be checked on UL's online database.
Given that counterfeiters can quite easily work around this, UL recently implemented a hologram system too. The holographic label is attached to the cable packaging. For additional peace of mind, UL also offers a Hologram Authenticator which, when held over the hologram, will confirm whether it is genuine or not.
When something is too good to be true, it most probably is. This phrase could not be more pertinent to counterfeit cabling. If the price of the cabling seems too cheap, alarm bells should be ringing.
Trust your instincts; does the cable look and feel like a high quality product? Are the conductors twisted in an unusual way? If your experience and instincts are telling you that the cable is inferior to others, take extra care and verify the UL identification number.
Vigilance across the channel
In order to begin to tackle the propagation of counterfeit cables, all players within the supply chain must take responsibility to ensure that the cables being used meet safety standards, rather than simply relying on the end user to identify issues.
High quality cables are not cheap; the materials, the design, the production and the rigorous safety checks that go into ensuring that cabling performs as it should, all costs money. That is not to say that value for money should not be a consideration, but when the stakes are so high, cutting corners is simply not an option.