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How to Recognize False Category 6A Cabling

Do you want to know how to recognize false components for 10G networks? Read the following article.
Lately there has been a lot of information on structured cabling in connection with 10GBaseT high-speed protocol, and related Category 6A cabling systems. The final version of this protocol, which supports speeds up to 10Gbps on metallic structured cabling, was approved in June 2006 – i.e. it has been around for a sufficient amount of time in order for the public to acquire detailed information about it. However, the same does not apply for the Category 6A cabling systems, which are designed for transfers of 10GBaseT protocol, and whose specifications have not yet been finalized and are inconclusive.

Also for this reason, the suppliers of 10G solutions for metallic structured cabling compete in their statements on the reliability of the systems offered, and on their compatibility with Category 6A or Class EA standards. However, how do you actually recognize that such information published by suppliers regarding their materials is based on the truth? How can a customer recognize a quality system for transfers of 10GBaseT protocol from a system of low quality? The goal of this article is to provide a basic orientation within this area, and to help those who might be interested in 10GbE (10 Gigabit Ethernet) to tell the difference between a reliable solution for 10GBaseT protocol from an unreliable one.

What Is the Best to Use for Orientation?
If your suppliers state that their components meet the specifications of Category 6A or Class EA systems, they have to substantiate such statements. This can be accomplished in several ways. Aside from technical specifications, data sheets with manufacturer's measurements, and existing reference installations, one of the best methods is to furnish a certificate, issued by an independent testing authority, stating that the product conforms with the given standard. All renowned European testing laboratories currently provide services in the area of testing cabling systems for 10GbE, pursuant to the current applicable standards. Even though such testing is not performed on a specific installation but rather in laboratory conditions, these certificates can actually help give the customer a basic orientation within the various Category 6A solutions.

Getting Certified for the 1st Time – Current Version of the Certificates
From your supplier of a cabling system for high-speed 10GBaseT protocol, be sure to require current certificates from independent testing laboratories which assess the conformity of the Category 6A or Class EA system, pursuant to the final version of the standard – i.e. not only pursuant to the obsolete working versions (so-called drafts). Certificates which reference the working versions of the given standard could be as old as several years, and cannot objectively substantiate the reliability of the tested systems. Meeting this condition is even more important in the case of Category 6A or Class EA cabling systems.

Pursuant to the TIA/EIA-568-B.2-10 Draft 1.4 from February 2005 and pursuant to the ANSI/TIA/EIA-TSB-155 Draft 1.2 from October 2004, this certificate does not have any justifiable value because it is old and obsolete.

Category 6A systems, which were designed for the adequate operation of 10GbaseT protocol, are currently defined by the United States standard of ANSI/TIA/EIA-568-B.2-10 from April 2008 (for the Permanent Link and the Channel), and partially by the worldwide standard of ISO/IEC 11801 2nd Edition Amendment 1 (Class EA for the Channel), which was issued at approximately the same time. The date of the issue is very important in the case of both standards because these are the final versions of the documents – i.e. not the aforementioned working versions.

Even though the Unites States standard covers a geographical sphere which does not include the European region, it is highly useful in the area of structured cabling, especially when a European standard is absent and the ISO/IEC standard is incomplete. The significant role played by the United States standards in the area of cabling systems is due to: (1) its history – the first standard for cabling systems, out of which other worldwide and European standards were also "derived", was created in the United States as early as 1991, and (2) there are no significant differences among the components' physical and electrical properties, which were until now specified in all individual standards (note: differences such as varied terminologies, shielded versus unshielded cabling, or category versus class, are at the moment outside the scope of this article).

The faster reactions of U.S. TIA/EIA organizations, compared with ISO/IEC and CENELEC organizations, to new developments and trends in cabling systems is also an advantage of the United States standards. This fact was demonstrated by the approval process of Category 6A, when the final version of Amendment 10 of the TIA/EIA standards for cabling systems was approved under the marking of ANSI/TIA/EIA-568-B.2-10 in April 2008. On the other hand, the European standard of CENELEC and the worldwide standard of ISO/IEC are still waiting for approval of the completed version (for the ISO/IEC standard, Amendment 1 was approved for the original version of the standard and the document was issued under the marking of ISO/IEC 11801 2nd Edition Amendment 1; however, it only includes specifications for the Channel topology).

Therefore, when no other complete standard is available for an assessment of the overall quality of Category 6A or Class EA structured cabling, an undeniable technical benefit is the supplier's ability to certify the cabling system's reliability, pursuant to the final US standard (i.e. the above-mentioned ANSI/TIA/EIA-568-B.2-10 from April 2008 for the Permanent Link and the Channel), as well as the "partially" approved standards of ISO/IEC (ISO/IEC 11801 2nd Edition Amendment 1 for the Channel).

Getting Certified for the 2nd Time – Components of Category 6A
In light of the fact that specification of Category 6A or Class EA components will not be included in the ISO/IEC standard until Amendment 2, be sure to require that certified Category 6A cabling systems, offered to you, are in fact made of Category 6A components and not of Category 6 products. Considering this situation, the aforementioned United States standard is actually much more complete.

This happens because some companies supplying solutions for 10G mislead customers by labeling components of Category 6 as components of Category 6A in their materials, or alternatively, they hide them under the nonexistent label of Category 6(A). Category 6 components and the above-mentioned components of the nonexistent Category 6(A) are not particularly suitable for the reliable and trouble-free operation of the high-speed 10GBaseT protocol.

The new Category 6A or Class EA was created expressly to fully ensure the reliable and trouble-free operation of the 10GBaseT protocol. If Category 6 components were sufficient for a 10Gbps transfer without any limitations, as stated by some suppliers, no new Category 6A or Class EA components, on which teams have worked and are still working in the case of ISO/IEC and CENELEC standards, would be developed.

This certificate contains only Category 6 components.

Getting Certified the 3rd Time – Permanent Link and Channel
You should require certificates both for Permanent Link topology and Channel topology from your suppliers. Do not trust companies who tell you that measurements successfully performed on Channel topology are sufficient for 10GBaseT protocol. Measuring parameters for Category 6A within Channel topology certainly has its value; nevertheless, it is not sufficient for securing the permanent trouble-free transfer of 10GBaseT protocol. This is proven by the fact that the ISO/IEC organization has been working intensively on the aforementioned Amendment 2, which will include, among other things, testing for Category 6A or Class EA, pursuant to the topology of Permanent Link. The Class EA specifications, including related components, will not be complete until then.

In point of fact, it is precisely the topology of Permanent Link which serves as the fundamental topology for the reliable testing of the structured cabling, and which has a fundamental impact on the quality of the entire system. When the manufacturer is capable of guaranteeing the reliability of its Category 6A cabling system, not only for Channel topology, but especially for Permanent Link topology, the customer has access to cabling whose efficiency is not affected by components, which do not present a bottleneck for all cabling systems (so-called patch cables) with regard to their character and frequency of use.

In fact, if the connecting cables suffer damage or wear & tear and the customer has properly functioning and certified lines available, these damaged patch cables can be replaced by other corresponding patch cables of the same characteristics, without the need to repeatedly certify the entire segment and re-qualify it for 10G operations. This is a general way of perceiving structured cabling and its trouble-free operation today. Testing the reliability of a Category 6A installation should therefore not be based exclusively on measuring the Channel topology. Both types of certificate – i.e. Permanent Link and Channel, should definitely be required from suppliers of 10GbE solutions, despite the fact that testing within the topology of Permanent Link is currently only part of the ANSI/TIA/EIA-568-B.2-10 standard.

If suppliers refer to the United States standard of ANSI/TIA/EIA-568-B.2-10 in their certificates, but submit conformity of their cabling system only pursuant to the Channel topology (despite the fact that Permanent Link testing is available within the United States standard), one of the reasons could be the fact that the components of such suppliers fail under testing pursuant to the topology of Permanent Link. This should be a very clear warning signal for anyone interested in reliable Category 6A or Class EA cabling. With regard to this issue, the Fluke Networks company, a renowned manufacturer of devices for testing and certification of structured cabling, states the following in its materials on measuring Category 6A cabling:

"Passing permanent link test results assure that the permanently installed cabling meets the expected link level performance and that the end jacks and wiring terminations comply with the performance specifications. This assurance delivers benefits over the entire life of the cabling system. A cabling installation contractor typically does not install the patch cords that complete the cabling link between the network devices. Furthermore, patch cords may be changed a number of times during the life of the cabling system while most Permanent Links will remain static, except for a few major moves, adds and change projects. Since Permanent Link certification provides the assurance that the jacks terminating the Permanent Link pass or exceed the component specifications, the channels will also pass the test limit specification if you use compliant patch cords." (Cited from materials of the Fluke Networks company: How to Test to TIA/EIA-568-B.2-10 – What every installer needs to know about the new standard for Category 6A cabling…)

The picture was acquired from the Fluke Networks company: How to Test to TIA/EIA-568-B.2-10 –
What every installer needs to know about the new standard for Category 6A cabling…

Getting Certified the 4th Time – Alien CrossTalk Testing
The Alien CrossTalk (i.e. the crosstalk among the pairs of various cables in a single cable bundle) is an important new parameter, particularly for unshielded cabling of Category 6A or Class EA. If suppliers of Category 6A solutions are to declare the successful certification of their cabling system's resistance to Alien CrossTalk, they have to submit successful testing for the following parameters: (1) PSANEXT (Power Sum Alien Near End Cross Talk) and (2) PSAACRF (Power Sum Alien Attenuation to Cross Talk Ratio from the Far End, originally known as PSAELFEXT).

In other words, if your suppliers want to refer to resistance against Alien CrossTalk in their materials, with regard to their 10G solutions, it is not enough to submit successful measurements for only one of the aforementioned parameters; both parameters must be successfully tested (i.e. PSANEXT and PSAACRF). Unless this important condition is met (e.g. during testing of only one of the aforementioned parameters), any substantiation via measurement of cabling resistance against Alien CrossTalk would be of no value.

As already indicated earlier, Alien CrossTalk is quite an important parameter, especially in the case of unshielded cabling. In the case of shielded cabling systems of Category 6A or Class EA, the situation is much more favorable, because resistance against Alien CrossTalk is already ensured by the actual design of the components – i.e. by their shielding. Therefore, this means that from the viewpoint of Alien CrossTalk, in the case of using shielded Category 6A or Class EA cabling, measuring the PSANEXT and PSAACRF parameters is not so important, or could be replaced by measuring the Coupling Attenuation parameter instead. Among other things, the inclusion of the Coupling Attenuation parameter served as an extension to Amendment 1 of the aforementioned version of the ISO/IEC 11801 2nd Edition Amendment 1. But we will talk about this subject sometime in the future.