Wire workers wish warranties were worry-free

Structured cabling warranties are supposed to help customers sleep better, but they have turned into something of a monster lurking in our closets

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Bill Slater
, Southwire Cyber Technologies

Structured cabling warranties are supposed to help customers sleep better, but they have turned into something of a monster lurking in our closets. Let's shed some light on these creatures.

Once upon a time, not too many years ago, a giant company that sold both cable and connecting hardware said to the world, "Buy from me. I will take care of all your needs and you will have no worries." The convenience and security that the giant offered appealed to people, so they bought, and the giant thrived.

Two smaller companies-one that sold only cable and the other that sold only connecting hardware-teamed up to fight the giant. The two companies formed a joint warranty program and said to the world, "Buy from us. We will take care of your needs and you will have no worries." Like the giant, the two smaller companies together offered convenience and security to people, who once again bought. The companies thrived.

Buying without worrying

Other companies followed the example of the successful union. It was as if wedding season had bloomed in the cabling world. No one wanted to be without a system-warranty partner.

The honeymoon was short, however. One company after another looked longingly at projects that favored a cable or connecting-hardware brand other than the one said company was partnered with. Soon, the companies abandoned monogamous relationships. Soon after that, companies found it difficult to keep up with all their partners, and began to settle down to a few key relationships.

Meanwhile, warranty programs succumbed to one-upmanship, going from 15 to 20 to 25 years, to the ultimate-a lifetime warranty. Now warranty programs have gained identities of their own. Instead of being a bullet point within an advertisement, the warranty program now frequently has its own brand name and logo, with the companies involved listed as footnotes.

These new "brands" have flourished because of the deep-rooted desire for the promise of "no worries." If something does go wrong, it is delightful to know that somebody is prepared to take the blame.

Lifetime warranty

But will warranties themselves allow us to truly sleep well? Consider warranties from other industries as a reality check. I recently bought a nightlight for my six-year-old. The package proclaimed, "Lifetime Warranty!" It assured me that if the product ever failed, I could send the defective unit, with $3.50 for postage and handling, to the manufacturer, and the company would ship me a replacement.

I suspect warranty claims on this product will be low because the product costs $4. It would be cheaper to buy a new unit than it would to pay the round-trip postage to put in a warranty claim. Anyway, I can't remember what I did with the package that contains the return address. Seems to me like a virtual guarantee of few or no warranty claims.

Compare the nightlight scenario to what happens five years after a cabling system is installed. Chances of a warranty claim ever being filed are slim, if you consider the following:

  • It is highly unlikely that a problem would arise with the cable or connecting hardware. Most problems are installation-related, and are discovered and corrected during the required installation testing.
  • Technology is changing so quickly that long before the warranty period expires, the technology likely will become obsolete.
  • People in this field change jobs frequently. If a problem is discovered several years down the road, it is possible that no one within the end-user organization will still be around to remember that a warranty is in place.

Some might ask, "Where is the harm in giving customers a little more of a security blanket?" The harm is in the increased confusion. The integrity and reputation of most of the companies in our industry have, in my experience, been the customer's best real protection.

To establish new brand names for the plethora of warranty programs is an incredibly expensive process, and it is detracting from the other core messages customers need to hear from their suppliers about quality, performance, increased data speeds, and new applications. Let's give the warranty hype a rest. We'll all sleep better.

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Bill Slater is the business development manager for Southwire Cyber Technologies, a division of Southwire Co. (Carrollton, GA). This article is derived from a presentation Slater gave at the BICSI Summer 2000 Conference.

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