Over the past few years there has certainly been a lot of industry hype regarding CCA cable flooding in to the UK market.  Similar to the current arguments around British steel production and the cheaper inferior Chinese imports, we continue to see exactly the same problem in the IT cabling world.  Apart from plenty of industry talk around this potentially hazardous product, we have seen very few regulations or guidelines put in place, most alarmingly it now actually seems to be more readily available and accessible than ever before.  Well we thought it was about time that we added our ‘two pennies’ worth to try and provide some ‘simple’ clarity around this huge topic.

The vast majority of Cat5e/Cat6/6a structured cabling projects tend to be overseen by either IT, facilities or an outside contractor/M&E consultant, so they are fully aware from the offset what is required for a performance certified structured cabling system.  More often than not a new installation will specify clearly the manufacturer’s solution to be installed ‘end to end’, this is really good news as the topic of CCA or ‘cheap’ imported cable should never really come in to the equation.  Will a reputable installer really be prepared to cut a few corners to save a few quid?  We think not, especially when you consider the implications of pulling in new cables and re-terminating at a later date, risking a long term relationship along the way and ultimately damaging their reputation.

So what exactly is CCA networking cable?  Like most natural resources now days’ the price of copper continues to rise due to demand and the global shortage pushes up prices further.  Welcome CCA – aluminium with a small coating of copper!  On a more serious note, the physical properties of copper and aluminium are very close to each other.  So Copper is the traditional conductor in network cabling but CCA is a cheaper aluminium copper coated alternative…well not really an alternative but it could look like that at first glance.

If you want Cat5e/Cat6/6a compliancy you need to simply ensure that your structured cabling systems and patch leads are 100% copper, with no aluminium in sight.  The main point to note at this junction is that we have been unable to obtain any Global regulations that provide industry accreditation for the use of CCA network cable, but it continues to be a blight on our industry.  Also, perhaps more surprisingly, there are no standards in place regarding what the split should be between copper and aluminium content. The best assumption that research shows is the CCA cable features a central core of around 60% to 80% aluminium and the rest being the copper cladding, this ultimately means the resistance of a CCA conductor is around 40% more than if it was 100% copper.  Seen as this is the critical element of the network cable that carries the transmissions, it is clear to see what the performance implications could be.  The longer the CCA cable, the bigger the problem – so be prepared (very prepared) for a slower network as CCA does not have the same attenuation properties of pure copper.

There are also a number of considerations around performance and longevity to take in to account.  The most publicised articles tend to focus on the concern around Power Over Ethernet (PoE) devices when used on a CCA network.  When power is drawn continuously over the CCA network cable (often 24x7 for Wireless Access Points, IP CCTV and Network switches) heat will build up much faster.  This then causes long term damage to the network cable or adjacent cables and does not deliver the required continuous low voltage electric current to the PoE devices, potentially overheating as the cables cannot dissipate which could result in damage to the active equipment .  CCA cable is also harder in construction and therefore is more likely to break or become damaged due to its poor malleability, finally let’s add in to the equation that aluminium also oxidises upon contact with air (it creates a white powdery substance) so longer term performance decreases can certainly be expected.

Here in the UK we are aware of a small number of IT trade distributors (I can’t comment for electrical wholesalers) who actively promote a Network 5 and Network 6 patch lead range.  On first glance you could easily make the assumption (that we once did) that these are Cat5e and Cat6 compliant.  To be honest even when you drill down in to the technical specifications this is still not really made clear and certainly no mention of CCA in their product description.  However, they can be easily spotted by their moulded ‘winged’ boot and are often seen in online web retailers who tend to not be specialist IT companies, more often than not marked as economy or budget.  If the outer plastic packaging starts with, or includes a part code of TRT or LHT6 we would certainly be asking the supplier for some clarification around what has actually been supplied.  In the past we have come across numerous consignments of contaminated patch leads that state on the cable jacket that they are Cat5e or Cat6 compliant (which categorically is not the case), but thankfully,if we can take one positive from this article we have not seen any of them knocking around for quite a while now.

So, to conclude this is an interesting topic, and hopefully one that will adhere to future standards as the industry continues to evolve.  With quality, choice and innovation at the heart of our organisation you can rest assured that we don’t take the risk in promoting or stocking any CCA products, we are 100% copper throughout.  Hopefully this article has provided some simple answers to a topic that continues to grow in terms of supply and debate.  If we could be of any assistance or you would like to discuss CCA further we would welcome your input.  Remember, if the pricing looks too good to be true, it’s probably an inferior product.

Russell Meehan

Operations Director, Patchsave Solutions Limited