A growing number of installers and the companies who employ them recognize the value of qualifying residential voice/data/video (VDV) system installations. However, there are others who believe qualification testing takes too much time, the equipment is too costly, and who choose not to perform qualification tests.

Last year, an Electrical Contractor report covered the provisions of the then-new TIA-570-B standard for residential qualification, how it differs from the TIA-568-B standard for certification of commercial systems, and the benefits that result from qualifying residential systems (April 2005).

Developments since then, according to those in the industry, make qualification testing even more valuable to builders, homeowners and installers of VDV systems.

“The year 2005 was a remarkable one for home electronics and automation,” said Dan Payerle, datacom product manager at Ideal Industries. “Amazing technologies are wildly successful in the home environments, including music delivered throughout homes over wired and wireless networks; ... availability of hundreds of live video channels via computer Internet connections; ... automation of lighting, appliances and security systems; and standardization on Ethernet as the communications protocol between devices allowing them to be programmed and monitored through any PC connected to the home network via the device’s integrated Web server.”

In addition, Payerle believes the increased sophistication of home and small office networks has resulted in more small- and mid-sized installation companies beginning to comply with the TIA-570-B cabling standard.

“Typically, companies that install cabling for these small networks have taken the ‘go/no-go’ approach,” he said. “They might do a simple verification test on the installed cabling to check for wiremap problems and then move on, the practice being that once the equipment is hooked up and the devices appear to link up with each other, there was nothing else to do. With increased emphasis on Ethernet, and now gigabit Ethernet as the primary communications protocol between devices, performance testing becomes even more important. Add the growing success of residential voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and it becomes absolutely critical to take the next step beyond simple wiremap testing for residential and SOHO networks.”

Adam Welch, marketing manager for verification tools at Fluke Networks, said acceptance of the TIA-570-B residential standard and new testing tools are driving forces for increased qualification testing.

“The wide acceptance of the TIA-570-B residential installation standard, which reached unanimous approval by users and residential cabling and test instrument manufacturers, recognizes this new category of qualification testing as befitting residential installations,” Welch said.

New qualification testing products make the process easier and more affordable.

“Today, there are available high-quality, affordable qualification testers that sell for around $1,000,” Welch said. “They test the connectivity of the cable, and then determine what network technology can be transmitted successfully on that cabling. In addition, a qualification tester must provide documentation on the status of each tested link.”

Welch said installers can use test data as documented proof that cabling was indeed left in working order.

“Any subsequent rework can then be billable,” he said. “By performing a qualification test and doing any needed rework at that time, the installer eliminates costly callbacks. To look at it another way, a qualification tester can pay for itself by eliminating four nonbillable callbacks.”

TIA-570-B formalizes test procedures for residential installations and permits qualification as the final stage of testing. Three steps specified in the standard are the following:

°A visual inspection prior to insulating the home to ensure separation from power cable and to see that cables have not been damaged during placement

°A continuity check, usually performed with a wire-mapping device. The test is made on both twisted-pair copper and coaxial cabling.

°Qualification testing of transmission capability of cable, determining how fast data can traverse the cable being tested (10-base-T, 100 BASE-TX, GBE)

Qualification testers have been on the market for little more than a year, but technology has advanced rapidly, and relatively low-cost test instruments can perform the full range of tests.

Welch said that high-end qualification testers can check audio systems for left, right and polarity.

“Continuity and resistance tests will verify the operation of a security or alarm sensor,” he said. “Signal strength can be used to check video levels. Wiremap tests for an entire bridged telephone wire system let the installer test and ID-tag all voice outlets at one time.”

Until recently, installers had a limited choice of qualification testing equipment.

“They could choose to spend a large amount of money on a certification tool or not test the performance of the installation at all,” Welch said. “Many times the economic argument ended with ‘wire and walk.’ It made economic sense to install the job and hope that it worked. But when customers demanded unbillable callbacks, the lack of testing started to hurt installers.”

Fluke and Ideal have recently introduced new testing instruments that are perfectly suited for testing residential VDV systems.

Fluke Networks released its CableIQ Residential Qualifier Kit in July 2005, promoted as the first qualification tester designed for residential cabling installers who need to document that voice/data/video cabling systems are installed properly and will perform reliably.

“The instrument quickly determines whether residential cabling systems will support voice, voice over Internet protocol, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, CATV, and presents results in professional test reports,” Welch said. “CableIQ makes documentation easy and affordable, and allows installers to replace multiple tools they have used for testing, ID-tagging, and troubleshooting all voice, data, video, audio and security cabling.”

Payerle said instruments such as Ideal’s Signaltek cable performance tester closes the gap between simple verification tools and the traditional cable certifiers.

“Verifiers,” he said, “typically limit testing abilities to wiremap and sometimes cable length and certifiers perform a broad-frequency analysis of a cabling link’s ability to support any communications protocol within its frequency band; Signaltek evaluates the performance of a cable using 10 to 100 mbps and gigabit Ethernet protocols at a fraction of the price of a certifier. And given the prevalence of Ethernet devices in home and small commercial networks, performance testing using an Ethernet-enabled field tester is becoming a much more acceptable method of ‘qualifying’ communications cabling. Signaltek uses an integrated gigabit media controller and TDR to provide both performance and troubleshooting measurements of twisted pair cabling to support voice, data and video over IP applications.” EC

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