Check Your Specs, CCA Is Different From Solid Copper
Written by Don Schultz, trueCABLE Technical Manager, BICSI INST1, INSTC, INSTF, Fluke Networks CCTT
If you have shopped for Ethernet CCA vs. copper data cabling recently, you have probably noticed what appears to be a good value in what is known as Copper Clad Aluminum or CCA cable. Notably, this cabling is sold as:
- A great lower cost alternative to solid copper Ethernet data cable
- Meeting the performance requirements of your network by being sold as Category 5e or Category 6, citing EIA/TIA compliance on the box and the cable printing
- Safe to use, even with Under Writer Laboratories (UL) Certification on the outside of the box and printed on the side of the cable
What is not to like? Plenty, rest assured.
A major difference between CCA vs. copper cables is that CCA cable is not approved for Ethernet networking usage by any regulatory body. Any supposed compliance claims are false. Only stranded or solid copper conductor cables are approved for Ethernet data cabling. Further, the National Electric Code (NEC) does not provide for the use of CCA Ethernet cable in commercial structures due to safety issues. Therefore, installations using CCA are flatly illegal. If an installer were to run this cabling in a school for example, the local inspector might take notice and force removal of the installation, regardless of supposed regulatory approvals printed anywhere. There are good reasons why this is the case.
Knowing how to identify CCA cable is important. CCA cable appears to be the same as solid or stranded copper cable from the outside. Even when stripping back the cable jacket to expose the twisted pairs you still cannot tell the difference. The difference between CCA vs. solid copper lies in how the conductor wire itself is constructed. A CCA cable conductor is copper coated aluminum.
This has the following effects upon the cable:
- CCA cable is brittle and not tolerant of bends. Interestingly, merely pulling it off the reel or out of the box might break the conductor(s) due to far lower tensile strength and malleability (resistance to flex). Assuming the conductors did not break during removal from the packaging, there are significant risks of the conductors breaking during installation.
- After termination, the end of the aluminum is exposed to air. Aluminum is very reactive to the environment and will oxidize quickly. Copper also oxidizes, but when copper oxidizes the resultant copper oxide is highly conductive, where aluminum oxide is not. This will create a termination that will eventually fail.
- CCA cable has much higher electrical resistance than pure copper. This difference between CCA vs. solid copper ethernet cables manifests in two ways:
- CCA cable is not as capable of carrying Ethernet data signals over distance (called attenuation) . Attenuation is a fancy word for degradation in quality, and in this context the quality of the signal.
- CCA cable is not suitable in any way for PoE (Power Over Ethernet) due to the conductors themselves heating up and potentially starting a fire (called DC resistance), or damaging a PoE device on the other end due to the inability to supply enough current
What is worse is some cable resellers know of copious articles warning of the risks and dangers of CCA vs. copper cable and have changed marketing tactics to indicate their particular brand of CCA cable is superior and therefore a viable alternative. The reseller will make claims that their particular brand is using more copper plating and the issues we have pointed out here are non-issues. Nothing could be further from the truth and these are false and misleading claims. Confusing matters even further, some installers are defending these claims with anecdotal evidence.
The real evidence is if you browse to any known and reputable source for Ethernet data cable, you won’t find CCA cable for sale.
How can you play safe and be assured you are getting the quality you deserve?
- There are good deals to be had when shopping around but if it sounds too good to be true, then I would be suspicious. Buy from known and reputable sources. trueCABLE Ethernet cable is manufactured using bare copper conductors.
- If the reseller or manufacturer is selling CCA vs. copper cable, then avoid them. If a reseller or manufacturer is willing to sell cabling to you that simply is not suitable for any application then you should not trust any of their claims on any of their products.
- CCA cable is much lighter than pure copper since aluminum weighs less. If you compare shipping weights for suspected cable against known high quality pure copper cable then the CCA cable is going to weigh significantly less and this should raise suspicion.
- If you suspect you have already purchased CCA cable and did not know it, you can strip back the coating on the conductors themselves and use a sharp instrument to scrap at the copper to see if it exposes aluminum.
- If during installation you notice that the conductors are unusually brittle and break when removing kinks, then you should probably stop and evaluate.
Now, you should know how to identify CCA cable so you can avoid it. There are valid and approved uses for aluminum core cabling that have regulatory approval from the NEC and UL. These uses are usually for voice coils used in speakers in addition to certain electrical applications. This article only addresses Ethernet data cabling.
Remember, you get what you pay for!
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