Arlyn S. Powell, Jr
One of the hottest trends in the telecommunications cabling industry is the introduction of extended warranties by manufacturers. For 15 years or more, these warranties typically cover product defects and workmanship in Category 5 installations. They have led to strategic partnerships between cable and component manufacturers, so that complete cabling systems can be offered; and cabling installers must now complete manufacturer-sponsored certification programs so their workmanship can be guaranteed.
By fostering manufacturer-manufacturer partnerships and installer-manufacturer alliances, extended warranties are rapidly reshaping the cabling industry. Not everyone, however, is happy with this prospect.
At a recent ceremony held in Boston, MA, a representative of AMP Inc. (Harrisburg, PA) presented Ralph Ragucci, director of network communications for the state`s Registry of Motor Vehicles, with the first formal AMP Netconnect extended component warranty offered in the United States by the manufacturer. Looking on was Jim Mahon, president of Mahon Communications Corp. (Boston, MA), the contractor installing the cable plant.
What do manufacturers, installers and end-users hope to gain from such an extended warranty?
The manufacturer would like a long-term customer. To that end, says AMP sales engineer Dan Gavis, the company has extended its component five-year warranty to comprise a three-tier system. "The five-year component warranty you get right off the shelf from the distributor," he says. "Now we also have two 15-year warranties. The extended component warranty covers cable, connectors and connecting hardware, including fiber. You can also elevate that to the 15-year performance warranty."
The AMP warranty comes direct from the manufacturer. "We`re the point of responsibility," Gavis adds. "That`s different from what other suppliers are offering."
For cabling contractor Jim Mahon, the extended warranty offers opportunities to be affiliated with a major manufacturer and to serve his clients better. "With AMP," he says, "you know the company will be there for the life of the contract. It`s important that I know AMP will be there to protect me in Year 14."
Mahon Communications Corp. is a major telecommunications supplier to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, so it is also important that the company provide the best possible service to a large client. "The Commonwealth didn`t ask for the 15-year warranty," Mahon says, "but we offered it anyway because it strengthens our relationship with our client." He says the extended warranty distinguishes him from his competitors, who typically offer only a one-year warranty.
The Massachusetts Registry`s Ragucci, on the other hand, must offer the taxpayers maximum service while remaining within budget. "When you make a decision to rewire a building," he says, "you`ve added your vendor and its products to your organization. If it doesn`t all work together, you`re in trouble. I really felt comfortable with Mahon, and with the AMP products. The additional time on the warranty just reinforces the confidence I feel in the decision I made."
Among the most vocal in criticizing the trend toward extended warranties, not surprisingly, are proponents of optical fiber. For example, Tony Beam, a fiber-optic marketing manager for Siecor Corp. (Hickory, NC), has pointed out that "the actual warranty in almost all cases is handled by the contractor." Some extended warranties cover parts only, in which case the contractor must bill the client for replacement services. In other cases, the warranty may cover parts and workmanship. But who bears the cost for replacing a defective part? Unless the manufacturer reimburses for labor, the contractor may receive a $5 reimbursement for a defective connector while bearing the expense of a $150 service call to replace it.
In addition, for an extended warranty to be valid for workmanship, the contractor must be certified to install a particular manufacturer`s products. This may place a heavy burden on the contractor, who must send the company`s installers to the manufacturer`s training programs to obtain the needed certification. For example, Allen Kasiewicz, president of systems integrator Trellis Communications Corp. (Manchester, NH), asks, "How many training programs do I have to send my technicians through to understand how to put in a cable? And when I do send my technicians to training, they often know more than the instructor--because the instructor is usually a marketing person."
The longevity of Category 5 installations is also open to question. When the average lifespan of a network is 5 to 7 years, of what value is a 15-year warranty? "I think the 15-year warranty is the death struggle of the copper industry," Kasiewicz concludes. "If people would just switch to fiber, this issue would go away--because the design, packaging, installation, testing and certification issues around optical fiber are simple and well-defined, and they`ve been stable for years."