Testing and certification of commercial information transport systems (ITS)-also known as voice/data/video systems (VDV)-is standard procedure. Now, the performance of the increasingly complex ITS being installed in private residences is being tested more frequently and to more rigorous standards than in the past.

“We are finding that more VDV systems are being tested for the connected homes of today and tomorrow,” said Bob Jensen, RCDD, standards and technology development manager at Fluke Networks.

“Several factors are responsible,” Jensen continued. “One of the most significant has been the introduction of qualification testing within the TIA-570-B standard. Since the acceptance of this standard last year, residential testing is not only becoming more commonplace, it is being done consistently.”

Commercial certification is well understood in the industry, while testing home systems to standards is relatively new. With the greater sophistication of many home systems, testing makes sense for the builder, the ITS installer and the homeowner.

“There is much more technological integration going into homes than was anticipated just a few years ago,” said Dan Payerle, datacomm marketing manager for Ideal Industries.

“Many of today's new homes and multitenant residences are being wired to support the high-speed Internet access, [and] voice, data and video networks provided by telephone, cable television and satellite service providers.

“For example, one trend is centralized audio or video signals that are 'piped' to each room in the home. A multisource sound system can be configured to send one audio channel to a bedroom and another audio channel to the kitchen via small wall-mounted control panels. Additionally, closed-circuit TV cameras can be networked to these same control panels so a person could be in any room of the house and see who is knocking at the front door.”

Payerle and Jensen said that it is important to understand the differences between standards for commercial certification and residential qualification.

oCommercial installations must be certified to TIA-568-B standards, which also satisfies the warranty requirements of cabling manufacturers.

oResidential installations are tested to TIA-570-B standards, which formalizes the test procedures for residential installations and permits qualification as the final stage of testing.

Fluke's Jensen explained: “The residential wiring standard, TIA-570-B, permits a less rigorous test process called qualification testing as the final test phase. Qualification tests whether a particular type of network technology can successfully handle its maximum traffic load on a given link, such as 10 BASE T, 100 BASE T, etc. Qualification does not perform the plethora of electrical measurements required for commercial certification, but it does meet the TIA-570-B standard and, most importantly, satisfies builders and homeowners.”

Said Ideal's Payerle: “The TIA/EIA-570-B defines the difference between verification and certification testing. Verification testing confirms full and proper continuity and the absence of faults commonly created during the installation process. This is basically to test for wiremap errors that occur when the installer makes a mistake when terminating connectors.”

Payerle said the most basic tests that are conducted on residential cabling systems are wiremap and length tests to make sure the length of the cabling is within the 328 ft. (100m) limit.

“This is classified as a verification test since it doesn't actually confirm the performance of the link,” he added. “However, it is the most practical test because the equipment required to perform wiremap and length tests are quite inexpensive.”

Jensen said that basic continuity and wiremap for twisted-pair cable have not been perceived well by the customer, whether the customer is a builder or the homeowner.

“Testing done in homes,” he advised, “needs to be documented with the results stored in the distribution center and possibly explained to the customer. Additionally, the installer benefits from keeping a copy of the results to mitigate needless finger-pointing should a home system falter.”

Jensen cites three steps specified in the TIA-570-B standard. The first is a visual inspection prior to insulating the home to ensure separation from power and that cables have not been damaged during placement.

The second required step is a continuity check that usually is done with a wire-mapping device for twisted-pair cable and can also be used for coaxial cabling.

Once Sheetrock is placed and the home is painted and ready for finish-out, the third step-a qualification test-can be done. Qualification testing can be accomplished with a reasonably low-cost test instrument or even with a computer that can test each cable to ensure it supports certain network technologies.

He adds that many qualification tools such as Fluke Networks' CableIQ are well suited for testing residential systems because of their ability to qualify an installation and their relatively low cost.

Payerle said that a simple tool like the Ideal VDV Multimedia allows the user to verify proper termination of voice, data, and video links (RJ-11, RJ45, and F-style connectors) at very low cost.

“Tools such as this,” he said,” are easy to use and small enough that any technician can carry one to make sure all of their links are terminated properly before moving on to the next home. They are perfect for verification of copper cabling in residential systems.”

Of course, certification standards can be applied to home installations if desired.

Payerle said, “Certification goes a big step further and requires the use of a field-certification tester to actually sweep test the cabling to certify that it meets the performance requirements defined in the TIA/EIA 568-B for Category 5, 5e or 6 systems. A true certification tool can sweep cabling up to 1GHz and provide detailed test information about the performance of the link. It will also generate printed test reports that can be submitted to prove the performance of the installed cabling.”

Standards change, often requiring development of new tools and testers. “Standards do evolve,” said Jensen, “but the TIA-570-B standard was just released under a year ago. Changes that are being talked about in the TIA standards are to investigate testing of coaxial cabling so as to mitigate having CATV providers just cutting off connectors to place their own and ensuring that there is no RF leakage. Other topics include a debate of whether an RJ-11 receptacle should be allowed in addition to the eight-pin T568A jack.”

“As far as residential standards are concerned,” commented Payerle, “it seems that the push will be to closely follow the commercial standards. The commercial standards are currently pushing technology to the next level (10 gigabit Ethernet) and as we have seen in the past, consumers will continue to demand services and data and accelerated rates, and it's not just the commercial market that is demanding fast and cheap data.”

As for testing tools, Payerle said that the residential market is seeing a lot of growth and tester manufacturers are working hard to provide useful testing tools at a cost low enough that smaller contractors can afford to use on every job. EC

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or up-front@cox.net.