Copper Clad Aluminium (CCA), know what you’re buying...

Are you buying sub standard patch cords?

Do you know if they are pure copper or copper clad aluminium?

If you buy the cheapest patch cords you are offered there is a good chance they are not fit for purpose and could pose serious risk to business continuity and safety.

What is Copper Clad Aluminium wire?

CCA wire uses an aluminium conductor that is coated with copper, this process presents at face value a production technique that uses less of an expensive material, of which there is a global shortage, bringing commercial benefits to any potential suppliers of CCA network cable over competitors who supply pure copper equivalents. But what about the organizations who will rely on the cables as a vital part of their network infrastructure? This is where the CCA proposition starts to look less appealing:

The use of CCA wire in twisted pair network cable is not permitted by the IEC or CENELEC in their cable standards and the lack of any kind of standardization with relation to the ratios of copper and aluminium means that any testing by the industry can only be relevant to the actual piece of cable being analyzed. 3P; an organization that provides third party testing for compliance with industry standards for cable manufacturers strongly advises against the use of CCA wire in twisted pair network cable. The use of CCA wire directly contravenes both CAT5e and CAT6 specifications which denote the use of copper conductors. CCA wire is not a copper conductor. Organizations supplying CCA as CAT5e and CAT6 network cables should examine very carefully if they are in compliance with the sales of goods act.

CCA has higher attenuation properties than pure copper cable, this will result in more packets of data having to be retransmitted when it is corrupted or lost at the physical layer. This effect is particularly prevalent on longer cable channels on or near the 100mtr maximum and will at best lead to a slower network for most users of CCA twisted pair cable.

Although no testing has been done on the use of CCA wire for Power over Ethernet applications the higher attenuation properties bring about some frightening possibilities, particularly in applications such as IP CCTV where power is continuously drawn through network cables 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year using a cable with higher attenuation properties than intended for use with the IEEE802.3af standard, let alone IEEE802.3at, makes very real the possibility that heat will build up faster than it can be dissipated with potentially disastrous consequences

In addition to less desirable electrical qualities CCA wire presents a number of physical problems for installers ultimately leading to delay and additional expense. CCA wire has a lower tensile strength than pure copper and as such the cable can be damaged though pulling, with conductors or the whole cable breaking. CCA wire in twisted pair applications also has less tolerance for bend radius; for a cable installer who doesn’t know he is working with CCA cable, vast amounts of time can be wasted finding the source of a test failure.

Although a number of UK importers are already supplying CCA patch cables to their customers its performance in the field has not been documented, problems are likely to become apparent as organizations upgrade their networks to gigabit or implement PoE.

In terms of the issue of liability for any problems that may arise from the use of CCA, however minor or severe; the buck stops with the importer/distributor, who in reality should know the implications of using CCA wire in today’s network applications. In this instance, given the very obvious short comings of CCA wire in twisted pair networking applications; what cables a distributor supplies is a good measure of their technical competence and long term interest in their customer’s business

Our message to the industry is ask your cable supplier what they are offering you, and then make an informed choice.

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