Network cabling directly affects your business’s connectivity. When a network lags, corrupts, or fails, your enterprise loses money. When designing, installing, and maintaining your network, you should regularly test your network cable for vulnerabilities and potential threats. To do this, you’ll need a network cable tester.
To evaluate your cable’s performance, you need to know what time of cable tester you will need. Network cable testers are very specific to the function you want to test and the type of network wire you have. To help you figure out what kind of cable tester to buy, we’ve put together a complete buyer’s guide to network cable testers.
Large network installations are challenging for companies for a few reasons. There are many components, each of which can cause problems (a faulty switch, a bad cable, etc.). When providing adequate connectivity for large enterprises, universities, and large residential buildings, there’s typically a significant amount of testing that goes into each installation. After all, the company will want to know that the links work and that company did the job right. A cable tester is a leading way that installers can provide verifiable proof that the network works as expected.
For installers, though, the problem is that there are numerous cable testers around. Some costs a few dollars, while others cost thousands. Here’s what you need to know to pick the best cable tester for your business!
What Is a Cable Tester?
Before getting into picking the best tester, let’s first review what, precisely, a cable tester is.
At its core, a cable tester verifies that a cable connection works as expected. Most cable testers are pretty simple and effectively check to see if the connection is closed or not (meaning, is it wired correctly or not). They may provide more information, like if the link is miswired or a short circuit.
More complex testers will check the signal strength. Signal degradation can be a significant issue when running cables over long distances. Cable testers can also verify that the signal is strong enough to be beneficial for all receiving parties. They will also ensure that the wiring will perform at the correct speed. That is, is it of high quality enough that it can work at 10G? Or maybe it only works at 1G. These are the types of questions a cable tester can answer.
High-end testers will also check resistance and many other metrics to ensure that your wiring meets all relevant ISO and industry standards.
Therefore, you can think of a cable tester as a one-stop shop to ensure that the connection is correct and will ultimately behave as expected.
How To Test an Ethernet Cable Without a Tester?
Many smaller companies doing installations will try and get by without a tester (or they will have a very basic tester). There’s an unfortunate idea that if you boot up a computer and the link works or you check that the PoE is working once, that the cable must be working all the time.
The problem is that many cabling issues won’t show up without a tester. Delay and skew, for example, may or may not be evident, but they absolutely can affect your electronics and overall signal quality. This problem occurs when one or more of the twisted pairs in the ethernet cord is longer or shorter than the others. Over a long distance, this means that the signal arrives on one of the pairs of wires faster. There are specifications to say what the acceptable bounds of those delays are. Without a tester, you’d have no way of knowing.
Another issue can arise with PoE systems. Many ethernet cables can deliver 60W of power now over an ethernet connection. Your cable’s resistance is significant to ensure the power link is stable. If you do the installation and don’t measure the resistance, you’re going to wonder why you’re getting intermittent performance constantly.
Ultimately, there’s just no way of knowing whether or not your ethernet installation is truly correct without a tester. You might get hints here and there, but to understand what’s definitively wrong or right, you need a little piece of hardware that will tell you detailed information about the installation.
What To Look For in a Cable Tester?
Ethernet installations have become significantly more complex in recent years. With power over ethernet, long cables, many switches, and faster speeds (e.g., 10 Gbps), it’s more important than ever that your particular installation is up to spec.
What you need in a cable tester partly depends on what you need to check. If you need some basic diagnostics (i.e., to make sure the internal wiring is correct), you’ll likely be able to get away with a basic cable tester that implements TDR, cable identification, and toning.
TDR (time-domain reflectometry) helps you find where problems are in your cabling setup by saying something like, “the problem is 100 feet away.” You’ll know it’s in the cable itself, instead of the patch panel, for example.
Cable identification lets you test to make sure the cable is the same one you think it is. Toning is where you emit an unbalanced tone over the ethernet, and it acts as a “sound” that travels through the system and lets you get a sense of what connects to what.
These are the most basic testers.
However, they don’t tell you all you need to know!
More extensive testers also add network standards to the equation. Instead of “will this cable work,” these testers will answer the question, “will this cable work as 10G ethernet or 1G ethernet?” These testers run for a little bit more money.
Finally, the top-of-the-line testers test a wider variety of metrics to ensure your cables meet ISO standards. These will test that your copper wiring passes Insertion Loss, NEXT, PS NEXT, ACR-F, PS ACR-F, Return Loss, TCL, ELTCTL, delay, skew, and resistance. In short, they ensure that your cables aren’t just good and can meet the requirements for a certain speed; they’ll test to ensure your lines are perfect!
Why Are Network Cable Testers Essential?
There are three leading causes for data loss, weakening, or corruption:
- Attenuation: Attenuation is the weakening or loss of signal. Attenuation is caused by long cable length, increasing frequency, or higher temperatures.
- Noise: Noise occurs when an electric signal interferes with a sender’s signal. Noise can come from internal and external sources. External noise can come from many sources, so your network cable should be installed separate from anything that could amplify the noise.
- Delays: Delays in the electrical signal can be triggered from a host of factors such as the cable is too long, bandwidth is too narrow, or high latency.
To prevent your network from weakening, you should regularly test your network for lag, noise, and attenuation.
Related Link: Data Center Planning and Implementation
What to Look for When Buying a Network Cable Tester
Before purchasing a network cable tester, you need to determine what type of cable tester you need. Here are the different criteria you should use to evaluate cable testers:
Types of Network Cable Testers
You’ll need a network cable tester that works with the complexity of your network. There are three main types of network cable testers.
A verification network cable tester can determine if the cable is connected correctly. More commonly used by contractors and network technicians, verification testers are the first step when troubleshooting your network.
A qualification network cable tester has a more sophisticated design to determine if your network cable can support your network’s technology requirements, such as VoIP, Gigabit Ethernet, or 100BASE-TX. Network technicians primarily use qualification testers to evaluate or troubleshoot the cable’s bandwidth.
A certification network cable tester determines if your network cable complies with cabling standards. Cabling manufacturers require commercial datacom installers to use certification testers to validate that the cable meets cabling requirements and the manufacturer’s warranty.
Do you need help designing your network? Learn more about C&C Technology Group’s approach to custom-designed cabling solutions.
Related Link: Tech Tips
Design and Build
Network cable testers generally come in one of two model types:
- Portable Handheld Cable Tester: These testers are a single tool with a battery compartment for convenient portability, operability, and maneuverability.
- Detachable Modular Unit Cable Tester: This is a more substantial tester where one or more components can detach from the main tester. These types of testers are common for high-powered models because they have more features than the handheld testers.
Other important design features you may want to consider:
- Water-resistant: for outdoor or humid environments
- Includes a strap: keeps the tester from falling when not in use.
Length of Ethernet Cable
Because the length of your Ethernet cable directly correlates to the cable’s intrinsic resistance value and its DTR, your network cable tester must have enough voltage to test the length of the cable.
Most cable testers detail the maximum length of cable they can measure at varying voltages. You’ll want to verify your network cable length before purchasing a cable tester to ensure your cable tester can accurately evaluate your network.
All Ethernet cable has connectors on either end, allowing you to connect networking hardware and other computing devices. You need to verify what type of connectors your cable has so that you can find a compatible tester that can connect to the cable port.
The network cable tester should support standard cable connectors:
- Registered Jack 45 (RJ45): The Rj45 is the most common connector and used by most Ethernet cables up to a Cat 6 cable.
- GigaGate45 (GG45): The GigaGate45 is a specialized version of an RJ45 for Cat 7 cables.
- Eight positions, eight contacts (8P8C): the 8P8C is a special crimping tool to allow individual cable wires to be inserted into each of the eight pins on an RJ45 connector.
- Coax (coaxial) connectors: Coax connectors connect the cable to other devices and shield the cable.
- SC/SFP: SC/SFP are specific connectors for fiber optic cables.
WiFi Testing Support
Most networks include routers and WiFi modems to expand connectivity to the network. A WiFi modem broadcasts the network signal using cellular networks to provide wireless connection. If you want to test your WiFi network, you’ll need to pick a higher quality cable tester with WiFi capability.
You may want to look for cable testers with a manufacturer’s warranty in case of factory defects. Most high-quality testers and enterprise-level network cable testers come with a warranty to protect against malfunctions.
Identify Your Network Cable Requirements Before You Buy a Network Cable Tester
By examining your network cable, including determining your cable lengths and connectors, you can narrow down what type of network cable tester that your network needs. You’ll also want to take into account what kind of testing you need to do and whether the testing needs to support WiFi connectivity.
By narrowing your criteria, you’ll be able to determine which network cable tester you will need. C&C Technology Group specializes in technology integration and can help you assess your network for better connectivity. Our enterprise IT infrastructure team can design or troubleshoot your network to create a better networking solution.
Do you need help troubleshooting or design your data center infrastructure? Contact C&C Technology Group for a consultation.
Related Link: Legrand’s IoT Application Guide
Our Choice for Cable Tester: Fluke DSX Cable Certifier
There are numerous cable testers on the market today. None of them are as feature-complete as the Fluke DSX CableAnalyzer copper cable certifiers.
These cable testers accelerate every step of the certification process, supporting copper certification, fiber optic loss, OTDR testing, and end-face inspection for fiber. They work with all the latest cabling standards, including Cat 6A, 8, Class FA, I/II, and more.
One of the best things about these testers for professional installers is that they include a project management system called ProjX. This helpful system ensures the job is done right, from start to finish. And, they even have LinkWare to analyze test results and create reports to give to clients.
If you need to complete a large installation or certify your copper wiring, you cannot go wrong with the Fluke Networks’ DSX CableAnalyzer series.