Beware of counterfeits when buying wire and cable products

Beware of counterfeits when buying wire and cable products.

Global Wire and Cable Procurement: The Risks of Counterfeit Cables

Speaking the counterfeiters’ language and sticking to a strict quality control regimen are keys to keeping your supply chain safe

Sourcing signal-grade wire and cable components in the age of the Internet has never been easier—or more risky.  Using online component directories, you can easily find and RFQ suppliers of standardized equipment around the world to get the best price and lead time. But don't be lulled into thinking each bid is for the same thing.

That is because unscrupulous companies and individuals around the world are flooding the market with counterfeit components, using misinformation to hide their cost-cutting efforts after they have submitted a bid that undercuts legitimate manufacturers. They prey upon buyers who don't immediately understand the highly technical jargon that this unique industry uses, and they exploit the misconception that the specifications for these components are not as important as they are for more specialized and more expensive equipment. Obviously, you wouldn't pay the same for a passive cable as you would for high-tech medical, IT, or military equipment; nonetheless, the cables must be made to standards or the expensive equipment is useless.

In this article, we will help arm you with the understanding to combat this growing problem, but the first step is awareness and caution. Once you know the depth of the problems that counterfeiting can cause, you are already better equipped to save your company from a disaster.

Counterfeiters’ Jargon

Any highly technical field has its jargon, but the cabling industry seems to be especially full of abbreviations, acronyms and obscure references. Scammers will frequently use these terms to confuse buyers who may be accustomed to buying less commoditized items.  Here are the top terms and what they mean:

CCA or CCS: When referring to conductor materials, these terms stand for "copper clad aluminum" or "copper clad steel.” In some limited applications, it is okay to use a less conductive material in the center of a wire and just clad it in copper to carry the signal. (It’s important to note that none of the communication standards for network transmission allow for these materials).  But these are very rare applications, and you should only accept CCA or CCS if it is specified.  Since CCA or CCS uses less copper, it is often much cheaper; however, signal lost over the length of these cables can be a disaster for high-speed applications.

Gold Flash or Selective Plating: Since the biggest vulnerability point of a wired signal is at the connector (where an actual gap separates one cable from the next), nearly all connectors require some amount of gold on their pins in order to reduce signal loss as much as possible. Gold is expensive, though, so some manufacturers use a method called "flash" to coat the pins with a very thin layer of gold, or else they "selectively" plate only certain parts of the pin. Like the CCA and CCS above, there are legitimate applications where this is okay, but unless this is called out, you should not accept cables with less than 30 micro inches (sometimes using the symbol µ).  Any less and the gold will rub off each time the cable is connected and disconnected.

Plenum Rated or CMP: This refers to the fire code rating of the jacket of a cable.  Ordinary PVC jackets are cheap, but in a fire they burn readily and can actually cause a fire in one room to "leap" to another room or another floor by burning along the cables behind the walls. Jackets that are "plenum rated" are more expensive, but are absolutely required in many permanent building installations.  If your spec requires a cable to have a CMP rating, you cannot substitute a cheaper "CM,” "CMG,” or "CMx" rated cable.

ISO Certified: The first line of defense for faulty cables is the manufacturer's quality control (QC) process. The ISO standard helps ensure that QC, among other business practices, is continually audited and continually improving.  If you need to buy from an ISO certified manufacturer, ask for the signed certificate from a third-party auditor.

Fluke Tested: Especially for high-speed data cables, a Fluke tester can ensure the cable provides at least the minimum performance required to actually be called a "Category 5e" or “Category 6” cable, and so forth.  However, there are many types of Fluke tests. A "patch" test is much more difficult to pass, but will ensure that patch cords you get will not end up hurting your network. If you require a Fluke test, make sure you specify which test you need and get the report documentation to show it.  Some manufacturers will say Fluke tested, but it is only “Channel” tested, which is not good enough for a patch cable.

UL E-File: The bulk cable that a cable assembly is comprised of typically has markings on it to identify where it is from.  These markings could be the manufacturer's name and model number, but more often there is an "E-file number," which can be looked up on UL's online database.  This does not necessarily certify that UL has registered that cable's construction, however.  If you require a UL registered cable, it must be tested by UL or a UL-certified lab, which is a very expensive process that would push the price of the cable higher.  Don't be fooled by a counterfeiter that tries to pass off its cable as UL registered just based on an E-file number.

In the end, we always recommend you aggressively quality check every shipment of cables you get and always get a Certificate of Conformance (CoC) with each shipment. It is tempting, when buying items like this, to think that they are all exactly the same item, so the pricing is the only thing that matters.  This assumption is what gives the counterfeiters the power to cheat buyers and their companies.  A little knowledge of the terms used by the technicians and engineers who end up using these products will help ensure that you source the right product at the best price each time.

 

David Gallagher
David Gallagher joined L-com in 1997 to as a technical salesperson selling cables, connectors, adapters and other connectivity products. In 2000, he moved to the product development group, focusing on network and conversion equipment. Since 2003, David has been responsible for the entire network cabling product line, adding new and innovative products while keeping to a rigid standard of quality.  Today, David is the lead product manager for Ethernet cabling products, as well as fiber optic products. David has a certificate from the University of Massachusetts in Data and Telecommunications and is a member of Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI).

David Fallon
David Fallon joined L-com in 2002 as a member of L-com's award-winning customer service department.  After proving to have a technical aptitude for connectivity products, David moved to and eventually rose to supervise L-com's technical support and custom product support groups. Today, David works to communicate L-com's brand advantages to customers and potential customers through online media. David has a BA in Philosophy and Communications from the University of Massachusetts.

About L-com
L-com, a global designer and manufacturer of wired and wireless connectivity products, offers a wide range of solutions and unmatched customer service for the electronics and data communications industries. The company's product portfolio includes cable assemblies, connectors, adapters, computer networking components, and custom products, as well as the Hyperlink line of wireless products. Trusted for more than 30 years, L-com, Inc. is headquartered in North Andover, Massachusetts, USA, and is ISO 9001: 2008-certified. For more information, please visit: http://www.L-com.com/

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