Smart Building

Reliable Copper Patch Cords: The Missing Link in Your Network?

Daniel Charles

Every now and then, the smallest things can cause the biggest problems. Some call it the butterfly effect: localized change within a complex system that creates a major impact. 


Copper patch cords are a good example of this philosophy in action. Often the last element installed as part of Layer 0, patch cords aren’t always purchased at the same time as the rest of your cabling infrastructure. They’re also sometimes purchased in a piecemeal fashion based on what you need to connect to your network.


Despite the fact that they’re often overlooked, patch cords play a crucial role in the transmission quality of your channel – and not all patch cords are created equal. If copper patch cords don’t function as expected, they can decrease transmission rates and network throughput – regardless of how well the rest of your cabling infrastructure works. Investments in high-performance cable and connectivity are lost if unreliable patch cords create the final connection between one device and another.


Performance varies greatly based on materials and construction. Some manufacturers may use scrap cable to create patch cords. Others use inexpensive connectors and quick assembly methods.


How Unreliable Copper Patch Cords Lead to Wasted Time

In addition to creating network performance issues, using unreliable patch cords can also lead to lots of wasted time spent troubleshooting. For example, let’s consider the functionality of a surveillance camera.


One day, the camera’s pan-tilt-zoom features work fine. The next day, they don’t. The obvious assumption is that the camera has malfunctioned. So you do what you can to pinpoint potential problems: turn the camera off and back on, ensure that it’s connected to the network and update the firmware. You may even call in the manufacturer to check things over or swap out cameras.


Many times, however, equipment failure is caused by a faulty copper patch cord. Maybe the cable was bent too much. The connector could be damaged. The cable could be worn out by too much handling. By the time you do identify the problem, you’ve lost quite a bit of money doing so. The few dollars that were saved by purchasing an inexpensive or unreliable patch cord are now gone.


(In one particular case, Belden was called in to help troubleshoot a camera issue for a customer. Upon investigation, we discovered that the front pins of the jacks were damaged due to the connectors on lower-end patch cords. The cameras themselves were just fine!)


Performance of wireless access points can also greatly suffer when they’re connected to unreliable patch cords. The devices may still work, but connection speeds may decrease and overall device performance may be lower due to signal degradation or intermittent signals.


Troubleshooting becomes a major headache when devices run just fine sometimes – but randomly experience link failures or speed decreases with no apparent explanation. (The reason is often unreliable patch cords causing intermittent signals!)


In applications that involve power delivery (such as Power over Ethernet, or PoE), poor-quality patch cords become even more impactful. Patch-cord resistance unbalance – the difference in resistance between two conductors – can adversely affect data transmission during power delivery through loss of headroom margins or data transmission errors.



Bonded-Pair Technology in Copper Patch Cords

Bonded-Pair-Comparison-01One way to ensure that you’re always working with reliable copper patch cords is to look for Bonded-Pair technology. They feature a patented design that bonds individual conductors along their longitudinal axis. This guarantees extremely uniform spacing within each twisted pair, which maintains consistent electrical performance.


If you’ll be moving patch cords frequently – at the workstation or for moves, adds and changes – Bonded-Pair technology maintains an optimal distance between pairs even when they’re handled, bent or twisted, maintaining signal strength even in situations that may negatively impact other patch cords. A patch cord with Bonded-Pair technology combines the flexibility of a stranded conductor with the performance of a solid conductor.


To select a quality copper patch cord, also make sure to consider:

  • Size: A cable with a smaller OD takes up less space, improves airflow and weighs less so it can be deployed in congested spaces and leave room for possible expansion in the future.
  • Bend Radius: A small bend radius will allow you to flex the cable to accommodate curves or bends, as well as tight spaces.
  • Compatibility: When possible, use components designed to work together. You’ll achieve better impedance and reduce return loss if you match patch cords with your horizontal cable.

When combining Belden’s Bonded-Pair technology with the REVConnect® Connectivity line, you eliminate compatibility worries when connecting endpoint devices – it works with any IoT device that uses an RJ45 plug. The REVConnect termination method can be deployed in applications where the size of a typical field-terminated plug inhibits direct connection to IoT devices due to size and cable routing constraints.