Commercial datacom networks must be certified that they are correctly installed and meet industry performance standards. That makes certification testers a basic tool for installers, and manufacturers must plan ahead to have test instruments available as standards change.

In addition to voice and data networks, certification testing also applies to other cabling in a structured wiring system.

“Because cabling for VDV, security, fire alarm and other systems is being designed as part of the communications cabling infrastructure, additional standards have been written to supplement the 568 series of standards,” said Dan Payerle, global product manager for cable test products at Ideal Networks, Sycamore, Ill. “The ANSI/TIA-862-B standard, titled Structured Cabling Infrastructure for Intelligent Building Systems, is in development to provide additional guidelines for these systems.”

Ideal Networks offers a full line of network and cable certification equipment. The standards for testing are not defined by the application that will run on the cable (voice, data, fire alarm, etc.).

“Testing requirements are a function of the cable category, so a Category 5e cable must be tested to 100 MHz [megahertz] and a Category 6a cable to 500 MHz as defined by the ANSI/TIA-1152-A field testing standard,” Payerle said. “The testing requirements for cabling to support VDV, CCTV, alarm, access control and other applications are no different than the testing requirements for telecommunications cabling. The standards treat all cabling the same, and it should all be tested in the same way.

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“The test equipment is the same for cabling that supports telecommunications, data systems and other systems. A cable certifier that performs tests for wire map, insertion loss, NEXT, return loss, ACR-F, power sum NEXT/ACR-F and other tests defined in the TIA-1152-A standard is required to certify cabling from Category 3 up,” he said.

As part of the growth of the internet of things, alarm, CCTV and access control systems are rapidly migrating to internet protocol (IP) and ethernet, and they are being connected through structured cabling systems. Fluke Networks, Everett, Wash., manufactures test equipment and tools for the datacom industry.

“Three advantages are driving this,” said Mark Mullins, field marketing manager, Fluke Networks. “First, devices connected through a standard technology can more easily collect, share and analyze data. This can help spot potential problems and reduce operating costs. Second, with the adoption of power over ethernet [PoE], most of these devices can be powered and controlled with a single connection, reducing installation costs. Third, since the installation is not based on a specific vendor or technology, the use of structured cabling simplifies future upgrades.

“Category 5e and 6a being by far the most common of these standards include well-­documented and widely practiced certification tests. Every contractor who installs structured cabling already has tools for testing and certifying the performance of these systems or can easily rent them,” he said.

When customers adopt a structured cabling approach for these systems, they also have the advantage of being able to use the same design, installation and testing tools and procedures as they do for datacom installations. The test tools used to certify more demanding datacom installations can also be used for basic testing of simpler systems.

“The biggest recent technical breakthrough is the development of a Category 8 field tester,” Mullins said. “However, the most relevant changes for contractors are increases in the efficiency of the certification process, and the biggest breakthrough is in the adoption of cloud services. For example, our LinkWare Live service allows project managers to remotely set up their testers, track job progress and even the location of their testers from any smart device.”
Meanwhile, Payerle said there are no special tests for cabling designed for security systems.

“In the past, simple 2-wire and 4-wire alarm cable was commonly used to connect sensors and other devices to an alarm system,” he said. “This type of cable was primarily designed to support DC power and switch sensors and was not category-rated. It would, therefore, fail any type of certification test. Today, security installers are using Category 5e or better cabling to support smart IP devices that provide more functionality and require proper communications cabling.

“As a result, alarm installers are beginning to migrate from simple wire-map (VDV type) testers to more sophisticated qualification testers like a SignalTEK CT from Ideal Networks. This type of tester is a good substitute for a certifier as it proves data performance at 1-Gbps [gigabit per second] speeds, provides test documentation and costs about one-eighth the price of a certifier.”

In 2016, the Category 8 standard was approved and new requirements for testing Cat 8 cable to 2,000 MHz came with it, Payerle said. Cat 8 is designed to support 40 Gbps but is limited to just 30 meters (98 feet) instead of the 100 meters (328 feet) of lesser categories. The primary application for Cat 8 is in data centers. It is a shielded cabling system that introduces a new challenge for installers. Cat 8 has additional requirements to test common-to-differential and differential-to-common mode signal conversion, plus testing for DC resistance unbalance between conductors within a pair of cabling.

“However, for voice, data, security, alarm and other applications, the cabling sweet spot remains Category 5e,” Payerle said. “When additional bandwidth is needed, Category 6a provides up to 10 Gbps for a full 100-meter/328-foot cabling channel. Users who anticipate the need to support high-power PoE devices like wireless access points, outdoor [pan-tilt-zoom] cameras, video display terminals and other devices should consider cabling with conductor sizes of 22 or 23 AWG. The larger wire size reduces power drop on long cable runs, and most manufacturers offer the larger conductors across a range of cabling categories.”