A growing concern: counteracting counterfeit cables and components

July 25, 2012
“Counterfeit cables are everywhere,” cautions David Gallagher, product manager, Enterprise Cabling Infrastructure at L-com Global Connectivity Inc., a designer and manufacturer of wired and wireless connectivity products in North Andover, Mass.

Counterfeit cables are everywhere,” cautions David Gallagher, product manager, Enterprise Cabling Infrastructure at L-com Global Connectivity Inc., a designer and manufacturer of wired and wireless connectivity products in North Andover, Mass.

It is hard to say exactly when or where systems architects and systems integrators will run into them, Gallagher explains. “Some issues are small and some are significant. Basically, anytime someone advertises a capability on a cable that does not completely fill the specs, then you could call it a counterfeit.

“This could be as simple as a cable that says it is a category 5E patch cord and it really cannot pass a simple patch cord test,” Gallagher continues. “I have found that many manufacturers claim performance to category 5E, but are only performing a testing method called Channel Testing. Unfortunately, a path cord is a part of a channel and not the entire channel. When these cables are used in a network, they slow the network performance. The scary part is when someone claims a burn rating but cannot back it up.”

Gallagher, for example, recently reviewed a cable and called Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL), an independent product safety certification organization in Northbrook, Ill., for insight. UL experts responded that the markings on the jacket were not in accordance with UL rules and that the cable was likely counterfeit—and this particularly cable was marked as being Plenum-rated. (See Plenum rating description below.)

“For aviation, the cables that are used onboard often go through more testing than what is used on the ground,” Gallagher admits. “Although the onboard cable might be fully tested, how is the testing for the ground support systems handled?

“I have seen competitive bids where the lowest price wins. Lowest price might just be that 0.69 cable that someone finds on a random Web site. I’ve purchased some of these cables and tested them,” describes Gallagher. “L-com went the extra step of sending its cables along with material from one of these online companies out to ETL for verification.”

ETL SEMKO, formerly Edison Testing Laboratory, is a division of Intertek Group plc (LSE:ITRK) specializing in electrical product safety testing, EMC testing, and benchmark performance testing. Gallagher summarized the ETL report on the less expensive cable by saying, “the cheaper cable was junk.”

In the end, “buyer beware” reigns supreme. An internal quality control process is recommended for countering and identifying counterfeit parts. If you seek advice for establishing just such an internal procedure or you can offer insight into doing so or have had success in countering counterfeit parts, Avionics Intelligence wants to hear from you. Feel free to contact [email protected], or @coho or @Avionics_Intel on Twitter.

Plenum rating description
Plenum rated: Any cables that run on top, or in direct contact with the plenum, must be plenum rated. The purpose: to eliminate the possibility of toxic gasses being transmitted in case of a fire. www.mepconstructionworld.com/hvac-glossary-of-terms/

All UL listed pre-packaged models have a 94-5 V flame rating and are considered acceptable to be used in air circulating applications or plenums. www.functionaldevices.com/about/terminology.php

A special characteristic of electrical and communication wiring that is used in spaces used to transport conditioned supply or return air. Plenum-rated cables have lower flammability and heat release characteristics than standard cables. www.myairtight.com/the-tech-corner/technical-glossary/

David Gallagher joined L-com in 1997 to as a technical sales person 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. His diligence has ensured L-com's resistance to the creep of cheap counterfeit products that has affected so many other manufacturers. Today, David is the lead product manager for Ethernet cabling products, as well as fiber optic products. He continues to insist on pure copper wiring, 30-50 micro inches of gold plating on contacts, and unvarying adherence to external standardizations. David has a certificate from the University of Massachusetts in Data and Telecommunications and is a member of BICSI.

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