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Not in My Network! Copper Clad Aluminum is a Recipe for Failure

Posted by: Paul Kish on July 17, 2014

Editor's Note: This week we have a post from a guest blogger! Greg Deitz is a networking cable product manager for Belden.

CCA1Last month, Paul Kish blogged about counterfeit cable and connectivity, the risks and how to identify these subpar components. As stated in that blog, purchasing well-known brands of cable and connectivity from reputable manufacturers like us is the best protection against counterfeit components.

Purchasing Belden cable is also the best protection against copper clad aluminum (CCA) cables, which unfortunately have become a growing problem in the market.

What is CCA?

Composed of an inner aluminum core and outer copper cladding, CCA cables are often used for voice coils in headphones or loudspeakers, as well as for some RF and bonding and grounding applications.

Significantly lighter than pure copper and yet stronger than pure aluminum, CCA cables have been used for some electrical applications to avoid issues inherent with aluminum wire connections and also because they are less expensive than pure copper.

Unfortunately, CCA cables have also become a cheap replacement for category twisted-pair communications cables, but they should not be deployed in a network infrastructure. CCA cables are not compliant with UL and TIA standards, both of which required solid or stranded copper conductors.

What are the Concerns?

First of all, CCA cables have poor flexibility that can cause breakage. In a recent article by the Communications Cable & Connectivity Association (CCCA), of which Belden is a participating member, one IT coordinator for a small K-12 elementary school recounted his experience with CCA cable.

After he noticed that the conductors seemed brittle during termination, initial testing revealed a 30% failure on links due to lack of continuity from breakage. He then realized that simply moving a patch panel or faceplate caused more conductors to break and more failures.

And even if CCA conductors do make it through termination and pass testing, aluminum oxidizes when exposed to air. Over time, this can eventually cause failed terminations and the need for troubleshooting.

Another issue with CCA is its higher dc resistance compared to copper (about 55% greater), which doesn’t bode well for PoE applications. Greater dc resistance causes greater heating of the cable and reduced power available at the PoE device. As we move to higher power PoE Plus applications, dc resistance will become an even greater concern.

If you really want maximum support for PoE and PoE Plus, you’re better off choosing a quality category 6 or 10GX category 6A cable from Belden. In fact, testing shows that our category 6 and 6A cables are capable of delivering more power than category 5e cables while remaining within the maximum temperature rise of 10˚ (18˚F).

CCAHow Can I Identify CCA Cable?

CCA cable is much less expensive than solid copper cable, and it is also noticeably more brittle. It can be easily identified by looking for the silver color at the end of the conductors or by scraping away the thin copper surface on the conductors to reveal the aluminum.

Another sign is weight. Boxes of CCA cable weigh substantially less than solid copper cables. CCCA’s free CableCheck™ mobile app (search “CCCA” from the App Store or from Google Play) includes approximate correct box weights to help identify the use CCA conductors in place of solid copper conductors.

While some CCA cables may be accurately labeled as such, when a CCA cable is labeled as a category cable (i.e., category 5e, 6 or 6A) or as being CMR or CMP rated, it is counterfeit cable and might not comply with industry performance standards or pass UL fire safety testing, posing an even greater risk.  If you happen to come across CCA cable with invalid marks or legends, you can report those cables through the newly redesigned CCCA website.

Can't Ignore Category 6A White Paper


Tags: Copper Clad Aluminum, CCA, Guest Blogger


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Comments

 
    Paul Kish on May 20, 2015 at 03:13
    Thanks for your comment Danny. Please let me know if you have any questions! -Paul
    Danny on May 20, 2015 at 08:00
    Great post, I have searched a lot of late for a good explanation on CCA. I had a customer on the phone the other day, " i can get a box of cat5e for £32 ".... Yes that's ok, if you want to leave a legacy of failed installations. With more and more pressure being put on our networks. Now is not the time to buy cheap cable ! I will show my customers this post ! Thanks
 

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