Cable testers lend a helping hand

When companies spend thousands of dollars installing cabling like Category 5 or Category 6 for their network, they want a few assurances the cabling itself is going to function properly. Although not commonly found sitting under a network manager’s desk, cabling testers can often determine if problems are present and where exactly in all those miles the problems lie.

According to Chris Kozup, a senior research analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based META Group Inc., the two biggest names in the cabling tester market are Fluke Networks of Everett, Wash., and Microtest Inc. of Phoenix, Ariz.

“Those are primarily the two vendors that I see as having a role in the cable testing market, and both (have) developed typically handheld testers where you attach the handheld device to the cable, and it allows you test for all the parameters that are inherent within each different type of cable,” Kozup said.

He noted, however, that other offerings exist from companies such as Agilent Technologies Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif.

Most cabling installations are being contracted out and are not actually being done by employees within the company. Contracts stipulate each cable link must be certified because enterprise customers need to know that the work being completed is correct and to standard, Kozup said. Most of the sales of cabling testers are made to contractors.

At the top of the heap of handheld testers are Fluke’s CableAnalyzer and Microtest’s OMNIScanner 2, Kozup said. Although he wouldn’t offer an opinion as to which product is better – he had not done an in-depth comparison of the two products – he did say the standards for Cat 6 are still being ratified, and that neither product had been successful in testing with it. Both were, however, equipped to handle up to Cat 5e. The Category 6 standard is expected to pass in August.

“If the testers can’t really test it very accurately, how are the integrators going to test it? If the integrators can’t test it, how are they going to guarantee that the quality of the install is going to adhere to the standard? So that typically can be a problem that we run into,” Kozup said.

According to Brad Masterson, product manager at Fluke Networks Canada in Mississauga, Ont., CableAnalyzer is capable of testing up to Category 6 cable installations. Microtest’s Web site states the OMNIScanner 2 is capable of testing up to Category 7 installations.

When using a handheld tester, the device is connected to a cabling link and the operator uses it to run a diagnostic on the cable. If there is a point of interference on the cable, the device will pinpoint the exact location of the problem quickly. The tester will give the indication of the problem by saying how many metres down the cable the interference is. The operator then checks the cable at that point to find the problem.

Fluke launched an addition to the CableAnalyzer in February to meet the European Permanent Link standard. While North America uses what is called the Basic Link standard for cable installers, Europe and much of the rest of the world use the Permanent Standard, Masterson said. Some level of harmonization is being attempted to bring the entire world into line with one cabling standard. The DSP-LIA101S Permanent Link Interface Adapter was released for use with the DSP-4000 Series Digital CableAnalzyers to test the Permanent Link configuration.