Are these thoughts really warranted?

April 1, 2004
This month, senior associate editor Brian Milligan examines the topic of vendor warranties, discussing their real-world implications for cabling-system users as well as some emerging technologies that just might put these warranties to the test.

This month, senior associate editor Brian Milligan examines the topic of vendor warranties, discussing their real-world implications for cabling-system users as well as some emerging technologies that just might put these warranties to the test. (His article begins on page 18.) The topic resonates with professionals in the cabling industry, I believe, so I am using this page to speak my mind on some of the issues.

A few months ago, I spent some time with an employee of a cabling-system manufacturer whose job is to administer the company's warranty program. In our conversation, he was comparing cabling-system warranties to automobile warranties, implying that in neither case is the warranty a significant consideration for a consumer.

I disagree. For some automobile buyers, the warranty is a significant factor in a purchasing decision, but not the only factor. Here's my reasoning: Consumers who buy automobiles on the low end of the price range are more concerned about warranties than those who buy on the high end.

I believe there are two underlying realities. First, consumers realize that the cliché is true: they get what they pay for. Their concern about the car's durability over four or five or six years raises their interest in the warranty. If the manufacturer puts in writing that all these parts will continue to work correctly for a certain period of time, there's some comfort in making the investment. And second, most consumers who buy automobiles at the low end of the price range do so because money is an issue. They are concerned about having to shell out at least several hundred dollars in just a few years' time just to get the car back in working order.

For these consumers, the warranty is a significant consideration that goes hand-in-hand with price. Auto manufacturers know this. That's why the KIA commercials you see on television these days focus on the warranty. The company has already established itself as the low-cost option. Now it is trying to assure its target demographic that its vehicles' engines will outlive their tires.

Because I am more familiar with this scenario than that of buying at the high end of the automobile price range, I will try not to be too simplistic while analyzing that approach. But forgive me if I am anyway. My view of that situation is that those who can afford to buy a Hummer H2 can also afford to have it fixed. So, even if that vehicle provides a comprehensive warranty program, I dare say it is nowhere near the top of the consumer's priority list.

So what does an automobile warranty have to do with a cabling warranty? What's significant is how the two are different from each other, not how they are similar. KIA is trumpeting the idea of its warranty being the best.

With cabling, I don't see that anymore because 20-plus-year warranties are standard nowadays. With automobiles, some consumers take keen interest while others do not. In cabling projects, a long-term warranty is assumed and in almost all cases that assumption is accurate, regardless of the materials cost. Warranty claims on automobiles are common. Cabling-system warranty claims are scarce.

The tide could be turning, however, on one front that might put warranties back into focus. When vendor warranties were going from 10 to 15 to 20 years or more, users commented, "Who cares whether my cabling warranty is 10 years or 20? My lease is up in four years and we'll be gone from the building."

And when they moved out, they left the cable behind. So much cable, in fact, that commercial property owners face harrowing costs to have that abandoned cable pulled out.

I wouldn't be surprised if some of those property owners take to heart the idea that cabling is the "fourth utility." They will provide the cabling system for their tenants, including ubiquitous Category 5e and Category 6 connections, plus fiber and wireless access placed strategically throughout the office space. And they will expect the infrastructure to last as long as the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems in their buildings.

If cabling-system vendors have been relying on their warranty periods to far exceed their owners' churn rate, they might be unpleasantly surprised.

Patrick McLaughlin
Chief Editor
[email protected]

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