The benefit of snagless RJ-45 plugs

by Michael Stephens, Greenlee Textron  The plugs prevent broken retainer tabs, but must be crimped with care.

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Michael Stephens, senior product manager, Greenlee Textron

Look around your office at the plugs on the ends of your computer cables and you'll likely see quite a few of the retainer tabs broken off. Those are the little tabs that keep the plugs securely held into the wall or your computer. Because of the way the tabs are designed, they can easily get snagged and broken off. When that happens, you can expect to deal with intermittent disconnects with your networks - annoying at the least.

One solution to preventing this problem is to install a "snagless" boot over the joint between the cable an the plug when the cable is terminated. Since this is much easier to do for factory-terminated cables, it's no surprise that all store-bought cables come with a snagless boot. In fact, if you went to your local retailer or professional distributor looking for preterminated Ethernet cable without a snagless boot on it, you'd be out of luck.

So why all the broken plugs in the office? That's because nearly all office connections are of a custom length and are field-terminated, i.e., done on-site by a datacom technician. To add a snagless boot would mean the installer would have to carry extra parts and perform extra steps. That is not something most technicians get excited about, so it is rare that snagless boots get installed in offices.

Another solution to the problem: snagless plugs. These are plugs that are designed with features that significantly reduce the possibility of the retainer tab getting caught on something and breaking. The snagless plugs may cost a nominal amount more than standard plugs, but easily pay for themselves with fewer callbacks for technicians by eliminating the need to replace broken plugs; this also results in less disruption to productivity for computer users. Plus, it brings field-terminated cables closer to the same performance standards as factory-terminated cables.

In response to the growing demand for the new snagless-style plugs, tool manufacturers are beginning to offer crimpers specifically designed to work with them. These tools have been modified to accommodate the physical features of the new plugs so they fit fully and securely for proper termination. (An example of such a crimper is pictured at the bottom of this page.)

To make sure you have the right crimper, look to see if the tool is labled "snagless" or "snag-free" and also check the cross-reference of which plugs the tool is designed to work with. Other features you might look for include fully ratcheted crimp cycle to ensure the best terminations, cutting and stripping capabilities for ease of use, and ergonomic grips to minimize hand fatigue.

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