Cable Testing – Choosing the right tool for the job
As with any installation, once signed-off and handed over to the customer, it is expected to work and keep working without any issues, otherwise it could be very costly in operational downtime but also to you for as part of the installation contract, that’s why it’s crucial thorough tests have been performed before handing the network over to the customer and this is why for cable testing you need to choose the right tool for the job..
Types of Test Tools available and what tester do I need?
For network cable testing there are three kinds of test tools, which are designed with a specific set of features depending on a particular fieldwork task, these can vary on price, performance and application, but often there is overlap in the testers features and depending on the task the test tool performs, they can be classed under the following as:
- Verification – Is the cable connected correctly?
These tools allow you to check the cable is properly connected and are the first line of defence for cable troubleshooting by network technicians and contractors.
- Qualification – Can the cable support my network technology?
When you need to understand whether you’re current cabling can support your technology requirements like 100BASE-TX, VoIP, Gigabit Ethernet, etc. then a more sophisticated test tool will be required, that network technicians can use to troubleshoot and qualify the cabling bandwidth.
- Certification – Does this cable comply with cabling standards?
Certification test tools are used to ensure newly installed cabling complies with the relevant standards ((e.g. TIA-568-B.1 Category 6 or ISO 11801 2nd Edition Class E) and therefore will be approved by the cabling manufacturer’s warranty.
Let’s take a closer look at:
These tools are ideal for troubleshooting, performing basic continuity functions and sometimes are relied on as the first line of defense, with having features such as Toning to trace a specific wire or cable is within a bundle or at the remote end and wire mapping which will tell you that each pair is connected to the correct pins at the plug and jacks with good contacts in the terminations.
More sophisticated verification tools may also include additional Time Domain Reflectometer (TDR) for determining the length to the end of a cable or to a trouble spot and they may also detect if a switch is connected to the cable under test or check coaxial connections.
In today’s world communications technicians have a lot more issues to deal with than just cabling:
- Is there a telephone voltage?
- What’s the polarity?
- Is there an Ethernet switch connected?
- Is PoE available?
A suitable verification tool to solve these problems would be the MicroScanner2 (036-9564) from Fluke Networks, which allows the technicians to verify the most common voice, data and video services, giving faster and more comprehensive troubleshooting as illustrated in the video below:
These tools are designed for network technician’s and are more powerful than the verification tools mentioned earlier as they are used to determine whether the cable under test can transmit or support the signalling of specific network technology such as 100BASE-TX, VOIP or Gigabit Ethernet.
One of the unique features of a qualification tool is its ability to diagnose common cabling problems which can limit the bandwidth of the cable and an example would be when a technician has two cables of unknown capability, where both have passed the verification tests (wire map), however a qualification test may show one cable is only capable of supporting 10BASE-T whereas the other is able to support Gigabit Ethernet.
A suitable tool would be the CableIQ Qualification Tester (513-6435) from Fluke Networks, which can be seen in the video below:
Verification and qualification tools typically test the channel configuration, whereas Certification tools are aimed at the commercial installers/contractors, as these tools perform the final step required by connectivity OEM’s to approve their warranties for properly installed cabling projects. The test tool will make many types of measurement to ensure the cabling complies with industry standards, such as TIA-568-C.2 Category 6A or ISO 11801 2nd Edition Class EA and the results will determine a Pass or Fail in accordance with the standard and indicate if a link is compliant with a category or Class of cable (for example, category 5e, category 6, Class D). In addition, certification test tools, usually support optical fibre test options, provide advanced graphical diagnostics and offer feature-rich reporting capabilities.
Certification tools like the DSX-600 CableAnalyzer (146-2853) from Fluke Networks can make very precise measurements and ensure the cabling meets the requirements set out in TIA and ISO standards and provide documented results.
Choosing the right tool for the job
As discussed above each test tool is designed for a different purpose and the table illustrated below (taken from Fluke Networks website) lists the features each tool can perform, whether it be for Verification, Qualification or Certification:
Suitable tools mentioned in this article are: