Ethernet Horror Stories with Don and Dave

Ethernet Horror Stories with Don and Dave

Booo! Did we scare ya?! Well if not dive into some of our Ethernet cable horror stories and let us know if they give you a spook! Don and Dave are ready to share some of their scary experiences they have had while installing Ethernet cable. Stick around.... you don't want to miss this! 



Don: Hey there, everybody. Thanks for joining the Low Voltage Low Down brought to you by trueCABLE. I'm Don Schultz and I've got Dave Harris here with me. We're going to be talking about Ethernet cable horror stories. This is a fun episode where we get to talk about our personal misfortunes or things that we've run into that are funny and maybe some people out there can identify with. If possible, we will be passing along some pretty basic information about how to not repeat some of these horror stories because some of it is self-inflicted. So let's jump right in! 

Horror Story Number One

Don: I'm going to go ahead and start off with my first horror story. Basically, really know what cable you're cutting before you go cutting it. Now, I know that might be common sense, but believe it or not, it's happened to me and it's probably happened to a number of installers out there. One day I was installing a replacement run of cable and I did not properly tone out the cable in the bundle and I accidentally cut the wrong one. Of course, it happened to be a nice 200 ft run. To add insult to injury, this particular run was an older style power over Ethernet or PoE run, which carries 24 volt passive PoE, which means that the PoE was being supplied by a switch, a $700 switch I might add, that was transmitting a proprietary version of PoE where it's always on. So you turn it on at the switch port through software and it stays on. It's not like the new style PoE where the device on the remote end requests it and then only gets power unless it says yes, it needs it. So, not only did I cut the wrong cable, I cut the wrong live cable. Even though it's low voltage and I wasn't in any personal danger, it was enough to kill a port on that $700 switch. So it was a pretty expensive lesson because the switch was full. I had to replace that $700 switch. I had no alternative.

What's the lesson? Make sure you're toning and tracing out your cable bundle before you go snipping a Ethernet cable, that's especially carrying PoE to make sure you don't end up in the situation I did, which was replacing the entire run, having to run the new run and then replacing the switch as a result too. Expensive lesson but it was a rookie mistake I made years and years ago.

Horror Story Number Two

Dave: I'm going to talk about optical fiber a little bit. First of all, make sure your optical fiber is always in its own pathway. If optical fiber is in a cable tray or lateral rack with a copper cable, eventually people are going to install copper cable on top of that fiber. The weight of the copper cable will push that fiber down onto the rungs of the rack or the wire of the wire rack, and eventually damage the cable, either by breaking it or kinking it. Since this is a process that happens over months and years, nobody will be there to take responsibility for it. So always make sure your fiber is in its own pathway. That can be handled just by plastic innerduct. That'll keep the copper off of it. Make sure that you extend that plastic innerduct all the way into the vertical and horizontal cable controllers in your racks because people will still push and force big bundles of copper cable in on top of the fiber if they can't see it. That's one way to tear up optical fiber.

Another way I learned quite a few years ago was when I was sent to the top of a lift with the end of an armored fiber cable and given instructions to pull it across this big warehouse and factory building. So we did just that and we were too dumb at the time to know that there was a strength member inside that cable to use for pulling it. We just pulled it by the armor because that was on the outside and it was easy to grab. So by the time we got across the warehouse with that run of fiber we had pulled about 15 meters of armor off the end of the cable. They had to keep cutting back and we had to keep pulling it across the warehouse for them to finally find the fiber on the inside. Moral of that story is pull by the strength member. Another moral is know what you're doing before you start.

One more story about optical fiber. Another person on the site had the habit of working with cable and when they needed to straighten it, they would sling it out like a bullwhip and it straightens the cable. Many of us have the habit of doing that but if you do that with fiber, it'll snap it. I can't say for sure if they broke the cable all the way down or if it just broke in a couple of pieces, but it was ruined just by that one act. So bottom line is fiber is very, very vulnerable and has to be protected, especially when it's around copper cable.

Horror Story Number Three

Don: Here's another early mistake I made, although I could certainly make this mistake again. It could happen to anybody. It has probably happened to just about every installer. That's finding out that your cable is too short. I've got a mantra that I have developed ever since I made this particular mistake. The mantra is that the most expensive cable in the world on a per foot basis is the one that is one inch too short and boy, do I have a good one.

I measured the drop lengths incorrectly by not taking all of the variables into account. I ran 10 Cat6A drops and they were all approaching the maximum permanent length of 295 feet. Most of them were 290 feet long. I had a measuring wheel and I measured vertical rises, horizontal distance, and I even included service slack at both ends.

One thing that I did not account for (that I do now) is that all of these drops had a lot of turns in them. I mean, we're talking about a lot of turns due to the installation and the structure involved. So I didn't account for any of the bends or the turns that the cable had to make. So by the time I got all the way out to the remote end where I'm ready to terminate to the outlets, I ended up being about a good inch up to a foot short on every single drop. That was not good because it took quite a bit of time to install the cable.

It was only me and one helper and we burned up three spools of cable. Then we found out that we had to yank it all out and then buy three new spools of cable, which was an expensive lesson, not only in material but in time.

So nowadays go ahead and use your measuring wheel or your typical gauge measurement method, but make sure that you know where your cable has to make a bend. For every bend that's in those drops for unshielded Ethernet cable, make sure you're adding six inches for every single band. If it's shielded Ethernet cable, it doesn't bend as easily as the unshielded does and you have to obey a bigger bend radius.

So I would recommend adding a foot for every single bend that shielded cable has to make. Once I got wise and I started adding bends in to my calculations, I never had a problem. So I'll always account for not only the horizontal length, the vertical climbs, uphill and downhill slopes, but make sure I take the bends in to account as well. It never hurts to add a good ten feet to both sides of the measurement, just to be sure that you don't run into a situation where you have to route around something else you didn't expect.

This is one story that I don't like to talk about, but I know I need to because people need to be aware of that one. It could save you a lot of time and trouble. 

Horror Story Number Four

Dave: I'm going to talk a little bit about suspended ceilings. I've done a bunch of commercial work in the past and have run up against a lot of these things. One thing I want to point out that is easy to have happen is with these grid ceilings at the corner of every tile, the grid work itself is very sharp. That is the metal pieces that hold up the tile. If you allow a cable to fall down into that corner while you're pulling it up into the ceiling, it will easily slice the cable jacket all the way down to the metal and ruin it. It'll have to be re-pulled.

So watch out for those things. Keep a person there if you're pulling wire up into a suspended ceiling so that doesn't happen. The good news is, is that if you're pulling a bundle at the same time and that happens only one cable in the bundle will get damaged. So you got that going for you.

As you go above the suspended ceiling, as we all have to do, we descend into true horror because people leave stuff in the suspended ceiling. By people I'm talking about so-called professionals. They go up there and they leave tools behind.

I was very lucky once that I opened up a ceiling tile right next to a ceiling tile that had a caulk gun, full of dried up caulk, just sitting there. It could have fallen out if I'd chosen the wrong tile.

So choosing a tile, how do you choose? One good thing to do is avoid opening a tile that's right next to the wall, because that's the tile that usually collects all the debris that falls out when you open the tile.

I was real lucky once that I followed that procedure, because on the tile that was next to the wall, the one that I didn't open, was a piece of cut off pipe and I had to remove it, of course. I lifted it and it was very, very heavy. I don't know what it was, but it was strange metal that was extremely dense and heavy. It was a piece about eight inches long and it had been cut at an angle, a very sharp angle. So what we're talking about here is very heavy pipe sitting on top of a suspended ceiling tile waiting to fall if somebody opens the wrong one.

So that's a horror story, in my opinion. A horror story of the gory variety. But maybe you'd rather have your horror in more of the disaster variety. Above suspended ceilings is where fire stopping is supposed to happen.That's where cables go through walls above the suspended ceiling.

Most technicians don't seem to know that if you put a hole in that wall and that wall is a fire barrier, then it's your responsibility to restore that fire barrier to its rating. Doesn't matter what kind of condition that fire barrier was in before you got there. It doesn't matter if every single technician that came before you left a hole that was not fire stop.

So you see all kinds of things going on with technicians trying to push their cable through somebody else's fire stop solution, not realizing that they have to rebuild it after they push a cable through.

You see situations where previously incorrectly fire stopped walls have a new, correct fire stop put in place for a new cable that somebody put in. But they did not restore the entire barrier to its rating. The thing is, it's the technician that ultimately has this responsibility. You're not only responsible for the condition of that fire barrier after you work there, you're responsible for the lives it's there to protect. And so, in my opinion, now we're talking real horror.

Horror Story Number Five

Don: This is a more recent situation that occurred to me. I visited a small hotel that was indicating that they wanted to install a new camera system. I was quoting the job and the owner insisted that I make use of all the existing Ethernet cable that was already installed.

I hadn't been out to the job yet, but I did go ahead and estimate the equipment. A lot of the cabling was outside because of their structure. With concrete walls and stuff that's all sealed up it's difficult to run interior cable so you really have to run it outside then go in.

They were complaining that they had all kinds of trouble and that the owner had previously attempted the installation themselves, but they got sick of it and just wanted a whole new system. They were insistent though that there was enough cable and they didn't need new cable. So I went out to the job and I took a good close look. You wouldn't believe what I saw. There are three big things that still stick in my mind about this one.

The first one was that none of the cable that they ran outside was outdoor rated. It was all pretty blue riser rated cable, which was already starting to turn white and powder up. Well, yeah, UV light will do that. Also, water vapor can infiltrate PVC cable jackets and then your temperatures go down at night and then it can condense into water inside your cable jacket, which is no good. That was problem number one.

Problem number two was that these people didn't know about solid copper bulk unterminated Ethernet cable. So they had actually joined multiple 50 and 75 foot sections together with indoor couplers outside. Of course the couplers were corroded. Some of the channels involved had upwards of five couplers involved. Obviously that's going to kill your data transmission. To get 10 Mbps out of it would probably have been a blessing, but it wasn't even getting that far.

Couplers should be kept to an absolute minimum, no more than one per channel, which they did not follow. And you certainly shouldn't be using indoor  couplers outside and that's exactly what they did. There's no way there is protection on them.

The third thing I found was that they literally had used any convenient tie off point available, including pipes, nails, hooks, you name it to literally wrap the cable around and tie it like a bow string for excess cable that they had. There were no proper cable bend radius as cable was literally turning, making right turns and tied around pipes. It was insane. I told the owner that the entire cable plant had to be removed and that it was no good. I told them I would not guarantee the functionality of the new system using the existing cable and it took a bit of convincing.

I had to take a Fluke DSX8000 out and demonstrate that every cable run that they had failed. Then I explained what was wrong. It was definitely a horror story. So the entire cable plant had to be yanked and all of it had to be re-run. 

So that was definitely a bit of a nightmare and it took a lot of convincing to get this guy to do the right thing. He was trying to economize and that obviously wasn't going to work out, but it managed to all work out in the end. He's a very happy person now. So that was probably the worst thing I ever saw that somebody else did, not me. 

I would recommend that anyone listening to this podcast go to our Cable Academy. A lot of the mistakes that I've made over time I've literally done a brain dump into many, many blogs and videos that are present in there to help future installers, newbies, as well as maybe experienced people avoid some of the pitfalls that come with running Ethernet cable. It's not just like an electrical cable you can string along and do whatever you want with. There are some rules that you have to follow to get a good install.

So hopefully you found this podcast useful and enjoyed some of the horror stories. Maybe you've got some similar horror stories that you could share with us. We'd love to hear them. It's always fun to hear it. 

So with that, I'm going to say thank you much for joining our podcast. Make sure you leave some comments for us. If you've had something happen, we'd love to hear about it.

Happy networking!

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Tom August 25, 2023

In the 90's I was the network manager for a 8 floor with two sub floors University Hospital built in 1971. All early phone cable, including trunks was installed laying on top of the suspended ceiling. This practice continued with the cat 3 and even some of the cat 5 cable and fiber. There was literally tons of copper laying on the suspended ceiling and to make things worse they never fire stopped the penetrations through firewalls. One day the Fire Marshal found it and said "Fix It".
It took the IT dept, Facilities Management and Contractors about two years to place all cabling in hangers and seal all penetrations. I would guess a lot of companies still just lay cabling on the ceiling?

trueCABLE August 25, 2023

Thank you for sharing your firsthand experience as a network manager in the 90s and shedding light on the challenges associated with cable installation practices at that time. It’s unfortunate that in the past, the practice of laying cables on suspended ceilings was widespread, even in critical environments like hospitals.

However, it’s encouraging to hear that the Fire Marshal identified the issue and prompted your IT department, Facilities Management, and Contractors to rectify the situation. Proper cable management and compliance with fire safety regulations are crucial for the safety and functionality of any building.

Since the 90s, there have been significant advancements in technology, industry standards, and best practices for cable installation. Today, companies are generally more aware of the importance of proper cable management and routing in designated pathways, whether it be using cable trays, conduits, or other approved methods for securing and protecting cabling.

While it’s difficult to speak for every company, the awareness of compliance and the need for professional cable installation has significantly increased. Network professionals and IT departments now prioritize following industry standards and regulations to ensure a safe, organized, and efficient cabling infrastructure.

Thank you again for sharing your experience, and we appreciate the opportunity to emphasize the importance of proper cable installation practices in today’s networking environments.

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