It’s more than a cord: Electricians are not cabling technicians
An emerging trend has been electrical service companies offering network infrastructure cabling – one Wisconsin contractor claims they can do cabling because they have “extensive electrical engineering experience which translates into related fields.”
But electricians and network cable technicians don’t share any “related field” classifications as determined by the Wisconsin Department of Administration and Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, electricians are excluded from the work of “[a]ll other positions that are more appropriately identified by other classification specifications.”1
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|Network Cable Technician||Electronic Technician||Electrician|
|Job Group||185: IS Support, Program and Service Technicians||127: Public Relations and Media Technicians||333: Craft & Trade|
|DP Code||6: Technical||6: Technical||4: Building Trades Crafts|
|EEO||3: Technicians||3: Technicians||7: Craft Workers|
Source: WIDOA Classification Specifications2
Job Group: code which identifies classifications with similar work, similar pay, and similar opportunity.
DP Code: designates the data processing unit to which the classification/class title belongs.
EEO: job category code designating the kind of work performed for purposes of the Affirmative Action reporting.
By definition, network cable technicians are allowed to perform tasks fitting of an electronic technician but no more than 50% of the time.3 This is important because electronic technicians focus on analog and digital media systems including video conferencing, teleconferencing, and intercoms4 – all of which are considered business technology. Electricians do not work with technology, networking, or data as a primary responsibility.
Occupations matching the noted three classifications of an electrician are bricklayer, carpenter, painter, plumber, and welder. Occupations matching network cable technician are information systems (IS) comprehensive support technician, IS network support technician, IS operations support technician, IS resources support technician, computer printing technician, and all electronics technicians (excluding media).2 See the difference?
Going beyond state-level, even federal agencies separately categorize the two. O*NET OnLine is a database of occupational information based on the Standard Occupational Classification System and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. Occupations on O*NET are divided into Job Families, groups based upon work performed, skills, education, training, and credentials. Telecommunications Installers and Repairers, which identify cabling technicians, are sorted into the job family of Installation, Maintenance, and Repair;5 Electricians are sorted into Construction and Extraction6.
Network cable technicians and electricians are not recognized in any mutual field at any governmental level. Electricians have “related fields” to painters and welders2 yet hardly (if ever) provide painting services – why, then, do some unlicensed electrical contractors offer independent cabling services? For financial gain by taking advantage of their customers7 , who often end up spending even more afterwards to fix what was incorrectly done.
Technical director of the Fibreoptic Industry Association (FIA) and managing director of e-Ready Building Ltd. in the U.K. Mike Gilmore told cable testing market leader Fluke Networks:
Electrical contractors are now an obvious supplier for small data cabling tasks and they are very cost-driven … [Counterfeit] cables are generally sold through the electrical wholesaler market rather than the data market, so I [as a cabling professional] only see them after a problem has been identified.7
Counterfeit, non-compliant cables are targeted toward the electrical market because the data market, which includes cabling technicians and telecommunications specialists, won’t purchase them.
Not all “cords” are the same. Cabling technicians use fiber optic and copper, shielded and unshielded, coaxial, patch, structured, and twisted pair standardized cabling for distinct networking and telecommunication applications.3 Furthermore, they work as a team to identify problems and create technology solutions with networking engineers and sometimes even electricians.
Many electrical contractors use cheap, counterfeit cabling made from copper-clad aluminum, or CCA, instead of solid copper because they aren’t aware "that cables marked as Category 5e or 6 and made with [CCA] cannot be legally installed into any area that requires a National Electrical Code (NEC) fire safety rating.”8 These contractors don’t even know what cabling they’re using since they do not have partnerships and material certified by an IT authority.
Communications Cabling and Connectivity Association executive director Frank Peri wrote for ICT Today, a BICSI publication, to explain:
CCA cables are not compliant per the standards because they have a much higher resistance that is not suitable for today’s network applications, poor flexibility that can cause breakage[,] and a tendency to oxidize and adversely impact terminations9
The quality and performance of telecommunications and networking suffers immensely as a result of cheap cabling, such as alien crosstalk (interference from other nearby cables) and increased fire hazards. Multiple independent studies have shown “that [installed non-compliant] cables did not meet standards for physical construction or transmission performance requirements.”9 Cable testing will be discussed later.
President of BICSI, the worldwide association for cabling design and installation professionals, Jerry Bowman warns, “When a counterfeit product is installed[,] it's more than a performance issue—it can threaten the safety of the workplace and put the consumer at risk.”7
The NEC is adopted in all 50 states as the benchmark for safe electrical design, installation, and inspection to protect people and property from electrical hazards.10 It covers communication and fiber optic cabling requirements, Section 800.179 reading: “Conductors in communications cables, other than in a coaxial cable, shall be copper.”8 As such, intentional or not, electricians and contractors using CCA cabling for network infrastructure are in violation of Wisconsin’s adoption of the NEC.11
Even standard-compliant wiring and cabling are very much like comparing apples and oranges: both are seeded fruit but are different in most other ways – color, flavor, culinary use, lower biological ranks…and when comparing cords, it’s a matter of electricity versus data.
|Electrical Wiring||Network Cabling|
|What is it?||Single metal strand||Two-plus wires wrapped in a jacket|
|Why use it?||Voltage and electric currents||Speed and specification by standarized cabling|
|How?||Lights, motors, generators||Telecommunications, business technology|
|Purpose||Electricity from power source||Data transfer between devices|
Different purposes mean different knowledge regarding standards, material, codes, and best practices.
Cabling technicians follow American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited BICSI and Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), the leading trade association representing the global information and communications technology industry. In contrast, electricians are more likely to follow standards from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), the association of electrical equipment and medical imaging manufacturers.
Cabling technicians train and execute per the ANSI-approved TIA-568 Commercial Building Telecommunications Cabling Standards Set, “a common sense approach to cabling that defines component and cabling system specifications and offers interoperability, upgradability and low cost due to the numerous manufacturers offering compatible products.”13 They also abide by TIA/EIA Fiber Optic and Building Telecommunications Wiring Standards.
- TIA-568.0-D, Generic Telecommunications Cabling for Customer Premises
- TIA-568.1-D, Commercial Building Telecommunications Infrastructure Standard
- TIA-568-C.2, Balanced Twisted-Pair Telecommunication Cabling and Components Standard
- TIA-568.3-D, Optical Fiber Cabling and Components Standard
- TIA-568-C.4, Broadband Coaxial Cabling and Components Standard
TIA/EIA Fiber Optic and Building Telecommunications Wiring Standards15
- TIA-569, Telecommunications Pathways and Spaces
- TIA-570, Residential Telecommunications Infrastructure Standard
- TIA-598, Optical Fiber Cable Color Coding
- TIA-606, Administration Standard for Telecommunications Infrastructure
- TIA-607, Generic Telecommunications Bonding and Grounding (Earthing) for Customer Premises
- TIA-758, Customer-Owned Outside Plant Telecommunications Infrastructure Standard
- TIA-526-7, Measurement of Optical Power Loss of Installed Single-Mode Fiber Cable Plant (Adoption of IEC 61280-4-2 edition 2: Fibre-Optic Communications Subsystem Test Procedures – Part 4-2)
- TIA-526-14, Optical Power Loss Measurement of Installed Multimode Fiber Cable Plant (Modification of IEC 61280-4-1 edition 2, Fiber-Optic Communications Subsystem Test Procedures – Part 4-1)
Standards are important for ensuring the quality and safety of labor and the products. Cabling technicians are educated on physical requirements such as length restrictions and diameter, installation requirements such as application specification, and best practices such as pulling tension and cable management.14, 15
The State of Wisconsin requires approval of materials and equipment with evidence collected from an independent third party.11 When standard-compliant cabling is used, it still must be tested for specification accuracy and proper implementation. For example, certified category 5/5e cabling isn’t as appropriate for voice and video as certified category 6 cabling, which handles real-time data better by further reducing crosstalk and traffic interference. Though slightly more expensive, Cat6 cable’s ability to improve bandwidth and response makes it the minimal option for telecommunications – whereas utilizing it for basic connectivity may be excessive for some applications.
As previously mentioned, cabling technicians work with data whereas electricians work with electricity, each job requiring very different materials and expertise. Since not all electricians are educated on the relevant standards which define cabling specifications and requirements, many are incompetent of properly designing, installing, or working any part of telecommunications or a network – especially cable and testing.
Cable testing is a thorough analysis done by a trained technician and certification system. Certification products such as Fluke Networks, the worldwide leader in tools for cabling professionals who install and maintain critical network infrastructure, provide sufficient data and compliance verification to submit for completion reports and governmental records.16
“On many occasions[,] the install is not tested using 'industry standard' test equipment, so the problems are not found out until too late,” Gilmore clarified, confirming that compliant material is simply not enough without appropriate cable testing.7
Cable tester tools are not cheap pieces of equipment either17 , so chances are very slim that unethical electricians invest in these state-of-the-art cabling essentials because their goal is to make money fast. However, contractors may utilize certified cabling technicians for this resource.
Conclusion. Using an electrician does not save any greater time or money than would a qualified cabling technician, contrary to the objective of those who do so including building owners or project managers. Why not?
- Replacement of counterfeit cables which don’t meet standards for installation or data transfer (audio quality, video clarity, etc.)9
- Penalties for building code violations11
- Breach of contract for communications cable not meeting applicable laws if specified18
- Breach of warranty for implied services because “disclaimers typically cannot limit a contractor’s duty to comply with the law”18
- Misrepresentation liability for sustained damage in the form of
- Negligence (whether or not aware of non-compliance), and
- Fraud (intentional falsification of fact).19
Unless electricians are working with cabling technicians, any “extensive electrical engineering experience” doesn’t “[translate] into related fields.”
1Wisconsin Department of Administration. State of Wisconsin Classification Specification, Electrician. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
2Wisconsin Department of Administration. Alphabetical Listing of Classifications. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
3Wisconsin Department of Administration. State of Wisconsin Classification Specification, Network Cable Technician. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
4Wisconsin Department of Administration. State of Wisconsin Classification Specification, Electronic Technician – Media. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
5O*NET OnLine. Summary Report for Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers, except Line Installers. Retrieved March 6, 2017.
6O*NET OnLine. Summary Report for Electricians. Retrieved March 6, 2017.
7Fluke Networks. Application Note: Copper Clad Aluminum (CCA) Cables. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
8Communications Cable and Connectivity Association. CCCA Cites Potential Legal Liabilities for Manufacturers and Installers of Category Communications Cables Made with Copper Clad Aluminum Conductors. Retrieved October 26, 2012.
9Peri, Frank. Non-Compliant and Counterfeit Cable: A Risk Too Real to Ignore. ICT Today, May/June 2014.
10National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 70: National Electrical Code®. Retrieved March 9, 2017.
11Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. Chapter SPS 316, Electrical. Retrieved March 6, 2017.
12Menards. Wire and Cable Buying Guide. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
13Fiber Optic Association. The FOA Reference for Fiber Optics – Overview of Premise Cabling. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
14TIA Online. Standards Store, TIA-568 search.Retrieved March 7, 2017.
15TIA Online. Standards Store, TIA-526 search. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
16Fluke Networks. Cable Testing. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
17Fluke Networks. US Price List Jan 1 2017. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
18Communications Cable and Connectivity Association. Potential Liability for Contractors Installing or Manufacturers Marketing Falsely Labeled Copper Clad Aluminum Cable. October 2012.
19Communications Cable and Connectivity Association. Potential Liabilities For Contractors Installing Building Communications Cables That Violate National Electrical Code Requirements. September 2011.
BICSI & CCCA. Counterfeit and Non-Compliant Communications Cable. March 2014.
CCCA. White Papers & Presentations.
Copper Development Association. Applications: Telecommunications. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
Lowe, Scott. 10 things you shouldn't do when running network cable. TechRepublic, November 16, 2017.
TIA Online. 2010-2011 TIA Standards & Technology Annual Report, pg. 22-25. Retrieved March 13, 2017.