Data cable testing and certification
Structured cabling systems accommodate data transfer at higher volumes and faster speeds. The increased reliance on digital services demand efficiency and result in cost and time management benefits. More and more companies, therefore, are using real-time data to inform strategic decisions, and as a result streamlining processes in order to maximise operating profits.
Cabling infrastructures sit at the heart of any data network. To meet user specifications and end application needs, new design considerations and technological advances in data cable design must be tested and certified to validate their compliance to industry standards.
When cabling is not manufactured in line with the recognised standards, this may lead to issues later down the line, during installation, environmental impacts or operation itself, which affect individual data cable or system performance.
Data cable challenges
1. Structured cabling
The longer distances, and high volumes of data required today has in turn resulted in additional performance considerations, such as managing the increase in electrical interference. When implementing large infrastructures installers choose to bundle data cables purely for installation practicalities, however this could impact transmission performance and the level of noise the cable can experience.
Signal interference, also referred to as noise, failures are caused by the cable conductor being exposed to electrical charge from its surroundings. For example, this could be from a neighbouring cable within the bundle. Thus, when there are many cables bundled together, they can interfere with one another, compromising the integrity of the data transmission. One way of minimising this is using a high-quality shielded cable, whereby the shield reflects signal interference back down the channel or conducts it to the ground.
There are a variety of tests that can be undertaken to measure the effectiveness of the shield, and the overall cable transmission performance. Crosstalk testing measures the interference a cable experiences and the clarity of the data signal. Attenuation testing measures signal loss from the source to end device. If all manufacturing processes are controlled using high specification materials, the cables should perform efficiently ensuring maximin data transfer with minimal interference from external cables or within the cable itself.
2. Fire performance and CPR testing
As well as impacting transmission, bundled cables also pose a safety risk in terms for fire performance. Data cables are insulated by polyethylene (PE) due to its dielectric attributes however, this material is also extremely flammable. When cables are bundled together a high volume of PE is in one concentrated area which creates an increased fire risk. Data cables can also contribute to the spread of a fire as they run between rooms, floors, and above ceilings etc.
The environments within which data cables operate must be safe, which reinforces the importance of high fire performance data cables, and the need for Construction Products Regulation (CPR) fire classification. CPR is part of the European Union legislative framework and identifies a number of basic requirements that must be met by the construction industry, that is, in building infrastructures, materials including cable, entry and exit roads etc. Within a structured data network cables can be permanently installed in buildings, in horizontal cabling configurations. As these cables are classed as fixed, they must comply to the specified fire specified reaction to fire properties outline in the CPR classification framework. Due to the necessity for fire performance testing of data cables, BASEC’s testing laboratories are built to accommodate both. As part of AVCP System 1+ CPR classification, certification requires continuous surveillance and annual audit testing. Established as the cable testing and certification experts, BASEC’s approach to factory production control and rigorous process auditing allows for synergy between assessments. One audit can be conducted for both CPR and data transmission certifications, combined to create economic benefits for cable manufacturers. BASEC is also recognised as a notified body in both the UK NB 2661 and Europe NB 2581 and is also able to offer testing services for both UKCA and CE marking, which links directly to regulatory changes implemented from 2021.
3. Mechanical ingress climatic electromagnetic testing
As a result of the rise in ethernet demand within harsh industrial environments, for example smart warehouses and factories now utilising IoT technologies to streamline production processes and improve business efficiencies. These surroundings exhibit exposure to dust, water, humidity, chemicals, extreme temperatures, vibrations, or heavy electromagnetic interference (EMI), which data cables would not typically be exposed to in commercial office-based environments.
Cables can experience many different scenarios within these MICE classified surroundings. Cables could be crushed by heavy machinery or exposed to solvents causing the cable sheath to deteriorate and break down. Enduring these scenarios can impact the performance of data cabling systems, and compromise or affect the integrity of data transmission. Resultant issues can include signal failures or machinery outages, which may cause huge cost implications for businesses.
To accommodate the need for MICE testing on transmission cables, BASEC’s testing and certification scheme incorporates Grade 1 ranking. The performance of polymers, rate of deterioration, shock and impact testing are assessed to ensure continued performance in any of the scenarios a cable could encounter in a Grade 1 environment. In addition to this there are optional test services available accommodating more niche, higher risk environments, for example a nuclear power plant.
The need for structured cabling is widespread within more and more industries as the demand for data continues to grow. BASEC's holistic approach to data cable testing and certification ensures any transmission cable with the BASEC mark can accommodate the data demand and can withhold the test of time even within challenging surroundings.