As our industry continues to install an increasing percentage of IP cameras, some of the problems with the transmission of big-bandwidth IP video over UTP cables are growing concerns for security installation companies.
These problems are more common as electronic security companies are providing HD IP and/or megapixel cameras requiring high-quality cabling and connectors to perform properly. I received phone calls recently from two of my dealer associates asking how to solve intermittent transmission problems over local networks, where high-bandwidth cameras will work for a while and then periodically fail to transmit to the NVR/VMS system. The standard fix is to cycle the power of the camera, which usually solves the problem temporarily. Because these dealers did not possess sophisticated network bandwidth testers, they could not test the cables for their bandwidth capabilities or deficiencies.
I believe that our industry needs to rethink how we equip our technicians as they start to work with UTP cabling and LAN networks. Not only do the techs need the proper crimpers and tools to install RJ-45 jacks, but the sort of problems detailed above indicate that simple, inexpensive UTP-testing sets do not provide sufficient information to ensure that a particular cabling segment is up to standards.
Low-cost UTP testers provide a simple conductivity test and verify that the individual conductors in a typical four-pair UTP (Cat5e/Cat6) cable are terminated in the correct locations on the jack. While any cable that fails this type of test is in need of repair or re-termination, these types of testers don’t provide a true bandwidth test that would indicate the cable being tested can indeed carry the large bandwidth potentially required of connected IP devices either immediately or in the future.
The structured cabling industry has long used comprehensive testing equipment that provides detailed analysis of each cable, including bandwidth and data transmission quality measurements. These types of testers would work fine for our industry, but the cost (usually $6,000 and up) has kept security dealers from investing in these high-end testing sets.
One manufacturer has stepped up and is providing a lower-cost UTP cabling testing set, which not only checks for cable continuity and proper termination, but also transmits and tests for 1 Gbps Ethernet data transmission capability. The Ideal Industries SignalTEK® CT Data Cable Transmission Tester is a complete UTP cabling tester, which in three simple steps checks the continuity, wiremap, and Ethernet bandwidth capability of the tested cable.
The SignalTEK CT bandwidth test consists of the transmission of 823,452 data frames (for a total of 10 gigabits of data) between the two handsets in the test kit, checking the performance of the cable and connectors to the IEEE 802.3ab Gigabit Ethernet Standard. The loss of a single data frame will create a “fail” indication on the tester.
Another very important feature is the inclusion of time domain reflectometer (TDR) testing, which not only indicates the actual length of the tested cable segment, but also pinpoints the distance to any opens or faults along the cable length. This feature alone could save many hours of technicians’ time in trying to locate a particular problem.
The use of this tester set is very simple. First the technician “creates” a specific location or job; the SignalTEK CT will store the data for up to 50 individual job locations. Once the two ends of the test are connected, the test is initiated and the cable will be completed tested for gigabit Ethernet capability. Up to 5,000 individual cable tests can be stored simultaneously. After setting up the job on the tester, the technician connects the two ends to the UTP segment being tested and presses the “AutoTest” button. The complete cable segment test is performed with the results available in less than 20 seconds.
An innovative feature of the SignalTEK CT is the ability for the primary tester to provide PDF and Excel reports. These reports can be quickly downloaded onto a USB flash drive without having to connect the tester to a PC or laptop. The downloaded information will provide the date and time of the testing and can be customized with the company logo displayed on the summary page if desired.
This tester is critical for electronic security installation companies who are relying on existing pre-installed UTP cables to transmit IP video and other security signaling. By using the SignalTEK CT testing set, security dealers can be assured that any UTP cables that are being used for IP cameras are capable of carrying the big bandwidth required for megapixel and HD IP video streams. When using existing network infrastructure security dealers can wind up in one of those “Who shot John?” situations. The fault-causing system problems might be either the device(s) or the connecting cabling, which likely was provided by the end-user. The SignalTEK CT will verify the quality of the cabling, eliminating any questions as to where the potential problem resides in a specific trouble situation.
Our industry is growing up, and smart installation companies will invest in at least one SignalTEK CT tester set to be used when big-bandwidth IP cameras are being installed. With a dealer cost in the $1,500 range, some companies may balk at this price, opting for lower cost UTP testing sets that don’t provide bandwidth testing and TDR information.
During my 37 years in this industry, I’ve found that most device and system problems stem from issues with the cabling and connectors. The investment in a testing set like the SignalTEK CT not only will verify that UTP cables are properly terminated and can perform their function, but also will show your customers that your company is serious about properly installing IP. Providing the testing information downloads to your customer will increase the image of professionalism for your company while delivering the peace of mind that your installations will function accordingly.