As the price of copper increases, some cable manufacturing companies have come up with cheap and deceiving ways to make their networking cables. One process they’ve decided to go with was to replace the copper with Copper Clad Aluminum (CCA). Then, they market the cables as a lower-priced alternative to other performance categories such as; CAT6, CAT6A, and CAT5e. Others have taken it one step further and plated the wires with copper to make it look more authentic.
ICC cable CCA cable
Unfortunately, installers and contractors had not yet realized the terrible impact CCA cables would have had on their businesses until they used them to install cabling systems and received countless complaints from their customers about poor network performance. Here are some helpful ways to distinguish the difference between fake CCA and authentic ICC network cables.
One way to tell the difference is to look for the Underwriters Laboratories® (UL) and ETL Verified marks on the cable jacket or outer carton. In the comparison below, the CCA cable does not have the UL marking on the jacket which does not comply with the National Electrical Code (NEC). Also, it does not have the ETL mark verifying the performance complies to the TIA industry standard. The ICC CAT6 Cable has the UL and ETL marks.
In addition, the ICC carton bears the UL mark and is labeled with a certified UL holographic seal acknowledging its authenticity. UL listed cables are safety-rated because they passed strict flame spread testing to reduce the spread of fire. If a cable made with CCA shows a UL mark then it is likely unauthorized and the cable is counterfeit.
ICC cable with UL mark CCA cable without UL mark
ICC cable with ETL mark CCA cable without ETL mark
ICC carton with UL mark CCA carton without UL mark
ICC carton with markings CCA carton without markings
Another way to tell the difference between CCA and copper cables is to strip them down. Compare the metals by removing the insulation from the wires and scratch the surfaces. The picture below shows how the aluminum metal quickly appears on the CCA conductor. At ICC, we have certified and authentic copper cables. The aluminum will not appear on the ICC conductor because we manufacture it with 100% annealed solid bare copper. ICC uses solid copper in every network cable; CAT6, CAT6A and CAT5e.
ICC cable CCA cable
Solid copper conductors Copper Clad Aluminum plated with copper
A method used to tell the difference between CCA and authentic ICC copper cables is to apply heat. When an open flame is applied to CCA, the metal breaks down and the conductors become brittle and discolored. When the same test is applied to an ICC CAT6 conductor, the metal holds its form, discolors and glows. Both of these metals respond the same when used in network communications.
Performance relies heavily on the integrity of the metal conductor. One characteristic is electrical resistance. When comparing CCA to copper, a CCA cable with the same diameter has 55% greater electrical resistance. This means more heat will generate within the CCA cable causing insertion loss to increase and signal strength to weaken. Once power is applied to run Power over Ethernet (PoE) devices; such as video surveillance cameras, laptops, phones and others, the temperature will increase causing additional signal loss.
Another area is DC Resistance Unbalance; the difference in resistance between two conductors. When power is transmitted, it is split evenly between each conductor achieving a zero DS Resistance Unbalance and a common-mode current. CCA conductors have variations in contour and smoothness, diameter, and concentricity. Therefore, there is a higher risk for unbalance that distorts the waveform of the signals causing greater bit errors, retransmits and even non-functioning data links.
With all these comparisons, one can see why copper clad aluminum cables are less expensive than solid copper. Furthermore, using CCA cables for any installation is simply not worth the risk.
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