With the convergence of voice/data/video (VDV) applications within both the commercial and residential ectors, electrical contractors are now faced with becoming information technology professionals in addition to being electricians. In today’s market, many electricians are asked to do more testing across various disciplines and fields. To maximize involvement in and profit from the growth market in structured wiring, contractors need workers who understand how to install, verify and certify structured wiring to current standards, using the proper field testers and measurement instruments.
While working on datacommunications infrastructure for commercial premises is already well established among many electrical contractors, it remains a growth business in the small home/small office market. Increasingly, the homeowner wants a total solution that includes structured wiring. Electrical contractors equipped to install, verify and certify structured cabling along with installing electrical wires in homes stand to expand their workload and can use that overall expertise to ace the competition.
Regardless of the type of facility in which the Category 5 or Category 5e installation is done, conformity to standards is now required, without exception. A major standard published last year, the TIA 570-A, covers all of the low-voltage requirements for small home/small office applications. The standard states that installers must test installed structured wiring to the equivalent category of the cabling. If the contract calls for Category 5 in a residence, the contractor must use the full Category 5 test, including near-end and far-end cross talk, attenuation and so on, to be compliant with the standard.
Some manufacturers are seeing a surge in use of the relatively basic testing devices used by electricians pulling the wires. “Contractors are asking for devices that will let their electricians make sure that their cable runs meet basic requirements—for example, that there is continuity—or that the run does not exceed the loop length for the category,” said Steve Coker, director of marketing, Harris Corporation.
Accommodating those new to the business of datacommunications installations, manufacturers often offer instructions on how to use various VDV testing, verification and certification tools. Sometimes, the teaching material comes with the tester; at other times, the manufacturer works with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or other training organizations.
“Contractors familiar with the standards, who know how to perform the tests and can give proof that the installation will perform properly to the requirements, can use that as a selling tool with their builders,” explained Mark Johnston, copper products and standards manager for Fluke Networks. “Testing, to a certain extent, also gives protection against a lawsuit should an owner later complain that the installation doesn’t perform to specification.”
As an increasing number of electrical contractors look to undertake structured wiring, especially on the residential side, as another revenue source, the testers themselves, in many cases, are becoming easier to use and are offering more information automatically. Plus, with many newer testers, buyers are getting more for less, with more functionality in individual devices.
For example, as John Olobri, director of sales and marketing, AEMC Instruments, noted, “Instead of having alphanumeric indicators, some of the newer wire-mapping tools have graphical displays that can give a quick view of how the wiring is laid out within a cable and show if there are shorts or opens. Technicians can see all pairs at once.”
Furthermore, Olobri pointed out, it is easy for one technician to troubleshoot structured wiring within the wall, a task that previously required a second technician to relay information. “With the newer wire mappers, the technician plugs in an ID module at one location and doesn’t physically have to see what is at the other end at the same time.”
There are other consolidations of functions. For example, technicians have used one instrument for checking the connection of the wires (determining whether there are crossed pairs, opens or shorts) and a different instrument (a time domain reflectometer [TDR]) to tell how long the wire is. There are now devices that combine those two functions in one unit, possibly saving the buyer both money and tote space.
And the trend toward consolidation of functions, Olobri thinks, is likely to continue to the extent that a technician will, eventually, be able to use one or two tools instead of the previously required four or five separate testers.
The technician in the field, in fact, said Tom Sandri, telecommunications products manager at AVO International, is increasingly likely to be a “teletrician,” which he defines as a person with an electrical background going after telecommunications-type applications and who has attained a certain level of expertise.
“A ‘teletrician,’” as he explained this new type of competitor in the markeplace, “is well-versed in following standards and documentation relating to installation because of an electrical background but is, typically, less well-versed in certifying and performance analysis because the background is not in telecommunications or data communications.”
“To rectify or offset that situation, manufacturers of test equipment are creating easier-to-use interfaces and are putting software automation within the test equipment, made possible by advances in microprocessor technology,” Sandri said. “Rather than the user having to interpret an analog deflection, the equipment performs diagnostic routines and automated application routines and, in essence, reports back red light/green light, pass/fail analysis.”
“There is a lot of growth and so therefore, there is a good opportunity for electrical contractors, especially in this economy,” Johnston said. A typical job in a residential home for a total structured cabling solution could run $2,500 to $3,500 for a basic installation running coax cabling and Category 5e cable to all rooms for hook-up of PC, TV and entertainment devices, from a central distribution device.
Often, however, homeowners expand upon that with options and upgrades that might include home automation, home theater, security, etc. The upgrade would also include the hub (the electronics), interface cards at each end, patch cord and other items to make a full network.
“Once the installer gets involved in active network devices, needs for test tools changes as well,” Johnston said. “In addition to testing run, it is also necessary to verify connectivity with those active network devices.”
Down the pike, Sandri of AVO International foresees software for the test market that is centered on modular-based platforms and offerings. “Technicians will use generic interfaces like CE-version embedded computers and personal digital assistants as the control mechanism for equipment modules that clip into the computer,” he noted.
In essence, the technician builds a tool inventory by investing in different technology modules. “For instance, a contractor using a notebook computer might invest in fiber optic-type measurement cards, metallic measuring-type cards for transmission impairment testing or perhaps, for protocol testing, invest in software or hardware cards, rather than buy discrete test and measurement instruments, each with its own power supply, display module and user interface,” he said. “A contractor could send out an electrician with one control unit which, depending upon the job task, could be configured to any of six or seven different-type test disciplines.”
Fluke Networks MicroScanner Pro is a network cable verification and troubleshooting all-in-one network tester that tests coaxial and all twisted-pair cables and can troubleshoot other wires (i.e., speaker, security networks or telephone cable). The unit accurately measures wire length, checks wiremapping for proper configuration and pinpoints distances to faults and miswires. Fluke Networks also provides a CD-ROM that focuses on the basics of VDV applications and explains cable types, cabling preparation, termination, installation standards and practices, proper testing methods and Web-based instruction.
AEMC Instruments offers a handheld wiremapping LAN tester (such as MODEL LN16) that enables an electrician to check up to 16 cables at once. The unit sports a graphic display providing a quick readout on all eight conductors in an RJ-45 cable system, indicating opens, splits, shorts, transposed connections, reversed connections and crossed pairs, in addition to the pass condition. The tester works with a variety of UTP and STP cables, including EIA/TIA T568-A, EIA/TIA 568-B, USOC FOUR PAIR, TOKEN-RING, 10 BASE-T and TP-PMD, as well as any RJ-45 cables.
For testing and certifying in multimode and single-mode applications, Extech Instruments new Fiber Optic Power Meter, Model FO610, measures from +25dBm to -50dBm, a range suitable for direct measurements of laser output power, with +0.15dB accuracy and 0.01dB resolution. A user-friendly interface with alphanumeric membrane keypad facilitates input of test parameters including site name, date, fiber type, fiber length and number of connectors and splices. The internal memory stores up to 1,000 labeled data records for up to four sites. The built-in calculator determines the maximum allowable optical loss and provides simple pass/fail certification.
Agilent Technologies handheld FrameScope 350 network performance analyzer, featuring a color touch screen interface, measures and quantifies response times of key network resources such as Web, file, e-mail, print, DNS and other servers. Combining network testing and Category 6 cable certification, the tester enables tech- nicians to troubleshoot all layers of the network with a single instrument, quickly isolating protocol, configuration, performance and cabling problems that might contribute to poor network performance. Remote control through a web browser allows others at a central office to operate the tester.
Ideal Industries LANTEK 6 LAN Cable Certifier is a fully compliant Category 6/ISO E cable tester with a frequency range up to 350 MHz that is fully upgradeable to LANTEK 7 for certifying installations up to 750 MHz. Accessories include FIBERTEK, which enables loss, length, dual wavelength, and bi-directional testing over two fibers, and talkset over fiber capabilities for 850 and 1,300 nm multimode and 1,310 and 1,550 nm single-mode fiber; and TRACETEK, for tracing a copper fiber run, locating distance to events along the fiber and measuring magnitude of the event.
The Megger SCT500 Structured Cabling Tester, from AVO International, identifies all common wiring faults, including split pairs; opens and shorts, on both screened (STP) and unscreened (UTP) cabling. The tester has a built in TDR facility for measuring cable or link length. In conjunction with 16 available remote units, the tester can identify the various circuits in a network. The unit also sports a built-in tone generator for cable location.
Tempo-Mesa (formerly Progressive Electronics) AT8LK-LAN Toner Kit, including the AT8 ALN Toner and the 200GX Inductive Amplifier, is suitable for use on datacommunications, telecommunications, security/alarm, audio and cable access television wiring. The Toner features the ability to send tone in addition to blinking hub, switch port and PC activity lights for fast identification. The tester has two selectable tone outputs for multiple-line identification, continuity testing, polarity indication for fast outlet identification, eight- position modular breakout tabs for testing datacommunications and telecommunications, low-battery indication and automatic shut-off to preserve battery life.
Suitable for measuring opens and shorts (including intermittent faults) from one end of any cable pair, the Harris Corporation TS 100 Cable Fault Finder serves as a fault finder, cable manager and tone generator. The unit works on virtually any two or more conductor cables up to 3,000 feet. Sporting a bright, large light-emitting diode (LED) screen and an easy-to-read menu visible even in low-light conditions, the moisture-proof tool is suitable for one-person monitoring of cable inventory in trucks and warehouses.
The Amprobe Model DCT-1000 LAN Cable Tester and Analyzer tests local area networks (LANs) cabling up to 200MHz (Category 5 and asynchronous transfer mode [ATM] networks), and stores measurements for future reference. The tests and standards are preprogrammed in the unit, which supports UTP, STP, ScTP, FTP and coaxial cables. The battery-operated unit, which includes RJ-45 and coaxial cable inputs, coded locators for socket identification and built-in TDR and TDCrossTalk troubleshooting meters, features data download to a PC. Software is included with the product.
Gardner Bender Cable-Test XR Remote LAN Cable Test Set, with tracer tone, verifies point-to-point wiring of twisted-pair LAN cables. The set, which includes transmitter, receiver and jumper cable in a carrying case, checks for continuity in straight-through or reverse wiring and allows for remote testing of cable runs up to 1,000 feet. Eight LEDs identify the source and destination of each conductor. The testers feature direct connection of eight-pin RJ-45 and six-pin RJ-11 cables, and generate two distinct tones for wire tracing.
Designed for testing of UTP, screened and fully shielded cable for opens, shorts, reversals, mis-wires and split pairs, The Siemon Company STM-8 hand-held tester includes a hand-held unit and remote and can test cable runs up to 2,950 feet. Sporting an LCD display that flashes during testing and remains lit after pass, the tester allows use of multiple remotes that enable one person to quickly test and identify up to four different cable runs from one location.
Unicom UniTRACK Cable Tester Kit, usable by a single technician, features a handheld plug-in unit with a 32-character, two-line LCD screen that displays wiring information such as breaks, shorts, crossovers or any combination of mapping between end-to-end modular jacks and plugs. The Wire-Mapping function tests end-to-end connections at local and remote locations. The Remote Locator function identifies terminal or workstation locations by number. The kit includes the main unit, the remote-mapping device, Remote Locator No. 1 to No. 12, RJ-45 to RJ-25 adapter and patch cords. EC
The FELDMANS write for various magazines and Web sites. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914.238.6272.