So you've probably heard of Cat5 ethernet cable or cat6 network cable. You might have cat5e data cable installed in the office or home, but have you ever thought you may not actually have cat5e cable installed.
Cat5e cable consists of 4 twisted pair of copper wires. These four pairs are also twisted together and insulated by an outer sheathing. However, some unscrupulous suppliers and installers are selling and installing "CAT5e" cable that looks like cat5e, displays cat5e markings on the external insulation but is actually not cat5e.
As copper prices increased, manufacturers started to look for alternative cheaper solutions. One of the metals they decided was a good an alternative to copper was aluminium so they would like us to believe. This gave rise to CCA Copper Clad Aluminium or Copper Coated Aluminium. This cable is a lot cheaper than copper as its mostly aluminium. You may get lucky, your CCA may have a Copper coating, but the majority of the CCA cable is pure aluminium.
Well, it seems to look like cat5e cable and behaves like one, so it must be one, right? Not quite,
At first glance without stripping down the ethernet cable and judging by the exterior, it most definitely will look like a cat5e cable. It is when we strip down to the metal wire we will see the difference.
One of the first things you may notice is there are the minimal amount of twists in the cable compared to a proper cat5e twisted pair cable.
Once we get to the metal conducting wire, you may notice it looks like copper. By scratching the surface of the conductor, the aluminium material quickly appears. Aluminium has a higher resistance than copper, so you're likely to face massive amounts of data loss, leading on to slower speeds.
CCA has a lower tensile strength which means it breaks down quickly when applying mechanical stress. Simple everyday use of can easily causes CCA cable to break down. If the installer is not aware of the CCA cable, he is installing he may easily damage the cable when installing as the bend radius is substantially less than copper.
One test to see if the cable is CCA or copper is by applying heat with an open flame. A copper cable would hold its form, discolour and glow when an open flame is used and would not melt within seconds. When heat is applied to a CCA cable, the metal wires become brittle breaks down and discolours. This can be problematic if you decide to use Power Over Ethernet POE devices like CCTV and Wireless access points. POE essentially powers the device through the cable. POE is designed for copper and not aluminium; as a result, the CCA cable may overheat and become a fire risk.
CCA cabling may not show all the mentioned symptoms and problems discussed on your 100 megabit network. However, if you decide to upgrade to a Gigabit network or start to deploy Power Over Ethernet devices, you may begin to see problems appearing.
Before you let anyone install cat5e or Cat6 cabling, do your research.
Ask about the cable and equipment that will be supplied.
Ask about manufacturer warranties.
Will there be a test report for every network point installed?
Is the installer a dedicated network cable engineer or is he or she just an electrician who knows how to punch down a cable.
If you are facing problems with your network cabling or require a cat5e or Cat6 cabling installation why not give us a call. We offer a free site survey for all new network cabling installations and upgrades backed by over 20 years in expertise and 25 years manufacturers warranties. We are a structured cabling company who believes in doing it once but doing it right. We are Northwest’s leading data cabling company with clients throughout Cheshire, Manchester, West Midlands, London and Staffordshire. We specialise in the installation and maintenance of various types of telecommunications cable from Cat5, Cat6 and Cat7 to Fibre optic cable installation and repair.