Industry giants Agilent Technologies, Fluke Networks and Textron are among the current players at the front line in the cable-tester field. Their marketing strategies all emphasize the fact that testing turns up problems that might otherwise go unnoticed. A UTP cable run that looks good might have any number of problems waiting to spring, and the more critical the machine connected to the network via that cable, the more serious the consequences.
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Like most standards, the recently approved Category 6 wiring standard involves a wealth of technical minutiae. And though groups like the IEEE, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) define the details of every wiring standard, UTP manufacturers and testers do an excellent job of boiling those details down to a level that the general IT population can digest. You have to be familiar with the terminology in order to purchase the right tool for the job. For example, the newest wiring testers--all Category 6--are referred to as Level III testers, whereas Cat 5 testers were Level II (or IIe). The higher level promises tighter test specs and increased performance metrics. You or your installer should be testing Category 6 wiring with a Level III tester. Accept nothing less, or the results will be meaningless against the Category 6 standard.
Category 6 testers incorporate tests from previous standards to ensure backward compatibility for testing legacy cables while meeting the challenge of higher performance measurements. Cat 5e cable testers were designed with gigabit in mind, so they swept a frequency range of 1 MHz to 100 MHz. Category 6 testers provide sweeping to 250 MHz, which means a higher-performing cable when combined with the rest of the metrics, including signal-to-noise ratio. The new top end of 250 MHz means a wider pipe is guaranteed, as compared with legacy standards (see "Cat 5e and Cat 6 Comparison," below, for the differences between Category 6 and the now-legacy Category 5e measurement criteria).