How can the buyers be assured the cable they are buying will live up to the promised performance and required safety?

Counterfeit electrical products are a $20 billion per year crime, and it’s growing every day. Protect the lives of your workers and customers, and avoid serious liability to your business. The low-voltage cable is part of that market threatened by counterfeits.

Counterfeit electrical products can kill. We are being warned that the counterfeit products can look exactly like the real stuff in almost every way, but they lack in performance and safety. So how do we protect ourselves? First, use a licensed cabling contractor. Your contractor most likely deals with a reputable distributor. Those two criteria make up a very strong barrier to being a victim of counterfeit and substandard noncompliant cable products.

The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED) have been pursuing the goal of quality and safety first and always for decades. The pressure is mounting as the global market is constantly changing and new products are introduced at an alarming rate. Just staying current on new products is an overwhelming task. Add the pressure of watching out for substandard or counterfeit products, and it is like trying to drink from a fire hose.

Common sense tells us that a gold Rolex watch for sale at $39.95 might not be the real deal. The same holds true in the arcane world of communications cabling.

The smart buyer is dealing with a reputable distributor that ensures the products are coming directly from the cable manufacturers. This is the most dependable rule in protecting the low-voltage cabling contractor and the consumer. We checked with Graybar, WESCO – CSC, and a host of other electrical distributors (all NAED members) on the myriad steps they take to guarantee the genuine product is being sold. It would take a multivolume book to enumerate the quality assurance programs currently in use by these distributor organizations.

The performance testing to check and double check interoperability of components boggles the mind. These testing processes are ongoing and adding new products before they reach the main stream of distribution.

Karl Griffith of Graybar relayed some of the scrutiny steps that they go through to fill their quiver with solutions and systems for communications, control, safety, and security applications. These steps differentiate the leading distributors and resultantly the smart contractors that buy from them. This level of quality control is unmatched in any global market. Law does not require it, but it sure is the best common sense step a consumer can look for to protect their company from getting scammed by counterfeit or substandard products.

Communications cable is tested and labeled for compliance with the National Electrical Code (NEC) and Performance (EIA/TIA). Intertek ETL and Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) primarily conduct the testing in the United States.

After a production grade cable product has been submitted, tested and passed, it gets a listing for compliance with the proper NEC type (such as CMR for riser or CMP for plenum) and it gets verification for the standard (i.e., CAT 5e or CAT 6, etc.). The listings and verifications of performance are enhanced by a follow-up program in which the testing organization pulls random samples from the manufacturer’s production facilities (never from distribution) and retests to verify both the listing for code and the performance to standard. If a product fails in this step, only the manufacturer is notified. If the problem is reviewed and it persists, the listing or verification number is removed from the manufacturers approved list until it can be corrected and retested.

However, at this time, there is no notification to distribution or the public if these actions are taken. The system isn’t perfect, but we hope the manufacturers will be forthcoming with their distributors in the mean time.

BISBEE is with Communication Planning Corp., a telecom and datacom design/build firm. He provides a free monthly summary of industry news on