Guide to Choosing the Right Cable Test Tool to Meet Your Testing Needs
New cable test tools, designed to perform various tasks at various price ranges, are emerging at a rapid rate in today’s competitive market of cable test equipment. All cable test tools are useful for specific applications and users, but not all meet TIA/ISO performance standards and certification warranty requirements. It’s important to know the distinction between the three cable test categories so you can choose the tester that truly performs the tasks you need.
The Three Categories for Cable Test Tools
Cable testers are designed with a variety of focused feature sets for particular fieldwork tasks. Depending on what task the test tool performs, they can be classified into one of three broad hierarchical categories– certification, qualification, or verification. While some features overlap between test tools, each group answers a unique question:
1. Certification testers
Does the installed cabling link comply with TIA/ISO standards?
2. Qualification testers
Can this existing cabling link support the desired network speed or technology?
3. Verification testers
Is this cable connected correctly?
A Closer Look at Certification
Certification is the most rigorous of all cable testing. Used primarily by commercial datacom contractors and network owners, certification tools are the only tools that provide “Pass” or “Fail” information, in accordance with TIA and ISO standards. A certification test tool makes many types of measurements across predefined frequency ranges and compares the detailed results to standards. The results from these measurements determine if a link is compliant with a category or Class of cable (for example, Cat 5e/6 or Class E(A)/F). Certification is the final step required by structured cabling manufacturers to grant their warranties for properly certified projects. While verification and qualification tools typically test the channel configuration, certification tools are able to also test the permanent link, which is commonly installed by commercial datacom contractors. Additionally, certification test tools support optical fiber test options, provide advanced graphical diagnostics and offer feature-rich reporting capabilities.
When to Use a Certification Tester
If you’re a commercial datacom installer who needs to prove to the network owner that all cabling has been installed correctly, and meets TIA or ISO link specifications, you must certify it. If you are a network owner who wants to check third party installations, a certification tool is your only option. If you are in a troubleshooting environment, and need to show unequivocally that the link under test is failing category 5e, 6 or 6A performance requirements according to TIA or ISO standards, your only choice is a certification tool. Certification tools are vital if there is ever any discrepancy or debate with a cabling supplier or installer regarding the performance of installed cabling. If you have a mixture of fiber and copper cabling, and often need to test both, certification tools do that best.
To receive the support and financial security of a manufacturer’s warranty, certification to TIA/ISO standards is your only option. Anything else makes the installer liable for the performance of the installation – which can be quite costly. For example, a large 1000 link installation could represent a $100,000 (USD) project – a hefty liability if manufacturer warranty is not obtained.
Certification and the Role of Standards
Certification encompasses well-defined cabling performance test procedures that are defined in the ANSI/TIA-568-C.2 standard or the ISO/IEC standard 11801 (Ed. 2). The TIA standard defines these levels of performance in categories such as, category 5e, category 6, category 6A the ISO standard defines classes of performance such as Class C, Class D, up to Class FA. The standards define a test procedure to certify that an installed link meets all the performance criteria of a given category or class. The same test parameters are defined for all data communication categories or classes; the significant difference among the categories is the level of performance as defined by the Pass/Fail limit values and the frequency range over which the measurements are to be evaluated.
Cat 6 or Class E defines the link performance over a frequency range from 1 through 250 MHz. Cat 6A oe Class E(A) defines the link performance over a frequency range from 1 to 500 MHz. The ISO standard furthermore defines the test bandwidth of Class F and Class FA links over the frequency range form 1 through 600 MHz. Certification also prescribes that the test result data for each link should be collected in the field and these results for all test parameters are stored and available in print or electronic format for future inspection.
Certification testers must meet TIA/ISO accuracy requirements – Level III or higher
Because of the important functions performed by certification testers, industry standards define the performance criteria for cabling components, as well as for accuracy levels for certification testers. The definition and compliance with tester accuracy specifications is based on two models: (1) the comparison of the field tester’s results to the results obtained with laboratory reference equipment and (2) mathematical accuracy models based on the laboratory measurement of critical performance parameters unique to a test tool.
Fluke Networks’ DTX CableAnalyzer™ Series underwent a rigorous evaluation by an independent and technically qualified laboratory, Underwriters Laboratory, Inc. (UL and Intertek (ETC)). DTX Series testers passed TIA/ISO accuracy requirements with significant margins and showed perfect compliance with the ISO Accuracy Level IV requirements, as well as with the TIA Accuracy Level IIIe requirements. The TIA Level III are used to certify the performance of the upcoming 10 Gigabit Ethernet link specifications.
Powerful Diagnostics to Identify the Defect(s) in a Link
Certification test tools are also the most sophisticated cable troubleshooting tools to provide advanced diagnostics when a cabling link fails the performance test. Fluke Networks’ DTX-1800 and DTX-1200 pinpoint the location and nature of the problem along with instructions for inspection and corrective action. These diagnostics not only apply when the link-under-test exhibits a break, an open circuit, or a miswire, but also when performance parameters like Return Loss or Near End Cross talk ( NEXT) are not satisfied. The DTX testers are the only certification testers to translate these failures into plain language troubleshooting instructions. Rather than re-terminating every connector or replacing components in an ad hoc fashion, the technicians can inspect the link at a very precise distance from the tester and can see the possible reasons for the failing test result at that location. This troubleshooting information can save many hours of unproductive probing, guesswork, unnecessary replacements of components, or re-terminating a number of connections.
Download the complete: Guide to Choosing the Right Cable Test Tool for you Testing Needs
Check out our Blog on Cable Testing Basics
Check out our Blog on The State of the Cabling Certification Industry