Price and preference play a part

The feeling of satisfaction you get when a project is complete, is accompanied by one of accomplishment, whether it’s your first installation or your thousandth. Despite that, you need to be certain you did the job right, and you need to back it up with cold, hard facts.

This is where testing comes into play. Just having an active, operating system is not enough. You’ll need testers to prove your work was done properly. Not only do test results give your clients the proof that you performed on the job, they also prove to the manufacturer that the installation went off without a hitch, thus making the warranty valid (which all customers want).

Regardless of whether you are installing electrical or voice/data/video communication systems, you need to test not only functionality, but connectivity as well. Electrical contractors have electrical system testing down to a science, but the communications side is a whole different ballgame. There are some intricacies that make communications system testing a separate task. This is in addition to the key operational roles the electrical plays when it comes to communications systems, so the electrical testing aspect is something not to be taken lightly.

Having the right testing equipment is essential. In the realm of systems, handheld equipment dominates both the market and the toolbox. Advances in technology have made the portable devices less expensive and more user-friendly than their big, clunky tabletop counterparts.

Perhaps the granddaddy of them all is Agilent Technologies’ WireScope (www.agilent.com or www.wirescope.com). This handheld device is capable of providing test results for cable in a format that is both installer and client friendly. The WireScope 350 is perhaps the most recognizable handheld tester on the market as it performs LAN certifications and can test just about all types of cable, including Category 6.

The other major player, in terms of market knowledge, brand recognition and general popularity, is the Fluke (www.fluke.com) line of testing equipment. One of its most popular offerings is the ScopeMeter, which is similar to the WireScope product.

Remember that your arsenal of testing equipment needs to be in line with your service offerings. This is definitely not an area in which to shortchange yourself. If you even occasionally dabble in communications systems, you should have at least a basic tester. Major test equipment manufacturers offer an array of products for testing almost any type of system. Wide-ranging testers will get you through just about any system installation. Or you can get targeted testers for specific aspects of communications systems, if you want to spend that kind of money.

The wireless boom has thrown a bit of a wrench into the equation, mainly because such systems require a whole other set of testing equipment. Sad but true.

There is a bright spot, though. Some wireless products have built-in diagnostics that help alleviate the need for testers that deal with potential problems or issues. That is not to say that testing equipment is not needed. In fact, manufacturers have created entire lines of products specifically made for this market.

Before running out and investing in specific equipment, look into it. While 3G systems are increasingly popular, test equipment designed for traditional 2G/2.5G product lines won’t do the job. Because of this, and evolving technology, investing in wireless test equipment can be tricky.

Two major players in this market are Agilent and Acterna (www.acterna.com). What happened to Wavetek? They merged with TTC back in 2000 and are now known as Acterna. While there are others out there, these two have the name recognition and marketing power that help promote their respective products.

There is another option: hire a third party to do it. Outsourcing is a hot topic across the board, and testing is no exception. Depending upon the project size and contract requirements, this additional expense might be the way to go.

Some speculate that the third-party options gives the added benefit of using a neutral eye to make sure that everything has gone according to plan. Sometimes contractors and end-users are too close to the issue to see things that may be potentially wrong.

In the end, choosing test equipment comes down to two factors—price and preference. If you are willing (and able) to pay, there is a tester out there as specific as you want it to be. On the other end of the spectrum, there are ample choices that give you a bit of everything, and can get you through the testing phase of just about any project at a reasonable cost. The choice is up to you. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.