Certification testers confirm if a datacom network or cabling in a structured wiring system is installed correctly to meet industry standards. Test equipment evolves and new models are developed to be ready when standards change.
Certification is the best way to ensure the cabling plant’s readiness for current and future applications, said Mark Mullins, global communications manager at Fluke Networks, Everett, Wash.
“Because certification is based on standards that are independent of specific network technologies, it is more ‘future-proof,’” he said. “New network technologies can emerge that base their designs on these standards and would, therefore, be supported by the certified installed cabling.”
Dan Barrera, global product manager at Ideal Networks, Rockaway, N.J., said cloud- enabled platforms are the biggest factor for increasing certification testing productivity.
“When properly integrated with the certifier, a cloud-based project management system lets project managers create complete testing projects from their offices with the correct test limits, naming conventions and cabling identifiers,” Barrera said.
Fluke Network’s Mullins said two new requirements apply to certification.
“The first is supporting field-terminated plugs, which have grown in popularity to support devices, such as access points and security cameras, where a wall plate and jack are not required,” he said. “The TIA has created a new link type, the Modular Plug Terminated Link (MPTL), for this application. MPTL tests incorporate the performance of the plug, which is not included in permanent link or channel tests but is critical because that plug was installed in the field.”
The second is resistance measurements that are critical to power over ethernet (PoE), especially new 90-watt applications.
“Meeting resistance requirements ensures that the power can get through without loss or overheating, while a balanced resistance ensures that power does not interfere with data transmission on the link,” Mullins said.
Mullins said there has been a slight increase in fiber in what Fluke Network’s customers test, but copper remains the majority.
“Tools that can perform a wide variety of certification tasks (copper, fiber loss, fiber OTDR and fiber inspection) can make contractors more efficient,” he said. “A single-user interface means techs need to learn only one instrument. Second, a single reporting program, such as LinkWare, makes it easier for the administrative staff to deliver complete reports to customers.”
“For shielded systems, a tester that can measure continuity of the shield along its path and not be misled by other ground paths is essential for good performance,” Mullins said. “Efficiently using the right test equipment increases productivity and can lower costs. Considering the efficiency of modern certification tools, it’s unnecessary for each team member to have one. Team members who need to troubleshoot existing certified installations where the problems are commonly breaks, mislabeling and unauthorized changes can use more basic tools that quickly identify these problems.”
Mullins said Fluke Networks’ modular Versiv family reduces the cost of copper and fiber certification by two-thirds. Future-ready design supports Cat 5 to Cat 8, fiber loss and inspection, plus OTDR testing. Taptive touchscreen interface helps ensure jobs are done right the first time.
“Jobs and testers can be managed from any smart device over Wi-Fi with LinkWare Live management platform,” Mullins said. “A project manager can remotely set up the testers and access the results without returning the tester to the office. This capability demonstrated great value as construction embraced distancing to protect workers as they returned to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Elaborating on benefits of transmitting test data by the cloud, Barrera said that a field technician can download the project to a certifier, complete the testing and upload the completed project back to the cloud without wasting time driving back to the office or the hassle of downloading tests to a USB drive or SD card and uploading to PC software.
“The LanTEK IV features a built-in Team Viewer server that allows a person, no matter where they are, to remotely connect to the LanTEK and see the screen and operate all functions of the tester on the computer,” he said. “This is a significant boon to companies with less experienced technicians who don’t know how to troubleshoot certification test failures. It allows an experienced technician, manager or technical support to virtually take control of the certifier to quickly diagnose and resolve problems.”
Barrera said the VisiLINQ permanent link adapter included with LanTEK IV indicates when the tester is connected to its partner and shows the pass/fail status when complete. There is also a button to start the next test in the series. These features allow for faster testing because all the technicians need to do is wait for the green pass indicator, plug into the next port and press the button on the test plug to start the test. It is also an advantage when working in noisy conditions when the “chirps” from testers cannot be heard.
“In typical commercial installations, we still see that nearly all installations will have some fiber installed for backbones,” Barrera said. “The ratio of copper to fiber links in an installation is still heavily slanted to copper. For every 500 copper drops, there may be just a few fiber strands installed. Therefore, all certifiers offer fiber test modules that can be installed to provide certification of multimode or single-mode cabling.”
Contractors should be aware of specific testing requirements.
Some projects, Barrera said, specifically call out testing with a cable certifier. In these cases, other types of testers cannot be substituted for a certifier. While qualifiers can test certain parameters to analyze cabling performance, they do not perform the tests required by the TIA or ISO standards necessary to certify cabling.
Barrera said the testing functions of certifiers are defined by two standards: the TIA-1152-A and the ISO/IEC 61935-1 Edition 5.
The primary differentiator of certifiers from other types of network cable testers is that they perform detailed analyses of cabling across a broad range of frequencies to determine whether the performance of the cabling meets its rated category.
“For example, Cat 6A cable is rated to 500 megahertz (MHz) and the various tests such as next, return loss, insertion loss, etc., have pass/fail limits for each frequency point from 1 to 500 MHz,” Barrera said.
Power over ethernet (PoE) is an important consideration as it’s being used to supply power to a growing list of devices with increasing power demands, he said. The newest PoE standard, IEEE 801.3bt, specifies up to 90 watts of power over Cat 5e and higher cable to a distance of 100 m/328 ft.
“Certifiers do not directly measure PoE,” Barrera said. “The test that is performed to ensure cabling supports PoE is DC resistance unbalance (DCRU). DCRU is a set of measurements that includes a comparison of the resistance of each conductor in a pair and a comparison of the four pairs within a cable. Only the latest generation of certifiers measure DCRU and the sensitivity requirement is quite exceptional. The Ideal Networks PoE Pro adds a full-function PoE analyzer to a cable verifier.
Most cabling problems are due to wiremap faults, Barrera said. Pretesting cabling with a verifier to ensure that cables are terminated properly before certification can save time. Verifiers are essential for installation technicians to ensure cables are terminated properly before certification testing.
“Tying up a limited resource like a certifier at a job fixing wiremap faults that could have been identified with an inexpensive verifier is a huge waste,” he said.
Changes in standards are coming, Barrera said. First, the TIA 568.2-D standard is going to be updated to require testing of DC resistance unbalance (DCRU) for Category 5e, 6 and 6A cabling in addition to Category 8. DCRU testing ensures that cabling can support high power PoE systems.
“This is a significant change,” he said. “In my memory, it is the first time a retroactive change has been made to existing cable categories. The reason is that PoE is becoming so common that we need to make sure that all newly installed cabling can support PoE. We’ve seen an influx of cheap, copper-clad aluminum cable being installed that can support high frequency data transmissions but has high DC resistance, which can prevent PoE devices from powering up.”
Second, there is a completely new standard in development, TIA 568.5, which specifies several different types of single-pair ethernet (SPE) cabling. SPE cabling will be used for industrial and IoT devices, with data rates from 10 mbps to 1 Gbps and distances from 50 feet to 3,280 feet. Along with the new cabling comes two new types of single-pair connectors.
“One is the same form factor as a LC fiber optic connector with two copper contacts,” he said. “The other is a ruggedized connector for use in industrial environments where they may be exposed to dust or liquids.”