Trends and future directions in network infrastructure testing

April 14, 2021
Organizations at the forefront of cabling-system test technologies describe what they see on the horizon for this essential function.

By Patrick McLaughlin

We recently had the opportunity to gain insights and opinions from several providers of test-equipment products and systems serving the cabling and information and communications technology (ICT) industry. We used the opportunity to get information from them on their portfolios of products and technologies, as well as their views of what is driving change and evolution in testing processes. Specifically, we asked each participant the following questions.

1.     For many in the ICT trade, testing is closely associated with certifying that an installed cabling system meets specific performance requirements spelled out in a standard. Very often, such standard compliance is required to obtain a manufacturer’s warranty. However, over the past several years the value of other types of tests, such as qualification and verification, has become clear. Please use examples from your product portfolio to describe your company’s approach to serving users’ needs for certification, qualification, and/or verification testing.

2.      Can you tell us about an emerging or growing technology that is driving, or will drive, the development of new test capabilities or test equipment? (Please use any example that you believe to be compelling.) You may provide information about what your company is doing or planning to do to serve the need created by this technology.

3.      Storing and managing test results is a practice that has been made much more efficient in recent years thanks to programs and capabilities from test-equipment manufacturers. Please describe what type of test-result management program(s) you offer. Feel free to discuss whatever capabilities the program offers in addition to results management.

We received information from the following companies: AEM, EXFO, Fluke Networks, NetAlly, Softing, and Trend Networks (formerly Ideal Networks). The text that follows contains each company’s response to our three questions. Where a specific individual within the organization provided the answers, we identify that individual.

We hope you find this Q&A exchange helpful in your everyday tasks and in your planning for the future. Send your comments or suggestions for future articles to [email protected].


On certification, qualification, verification: AEM provides solutions in these “traditional” categories, which I will outline.  However, we also recognized that modern network infrastructures require new ways of testing and troubleshooting, which mandates the need for a broader set of test function.  To meet this testing need, users unfortunately need to purchase two or even three different types of test equipment spanning the traditional categories, in order to meet the full range of required testing.  Most organizations don’t have the budget to support that, and end up foregoing some of their desired testing needs.  To that end, AEM took an innovative approach to create a new category, Qualification+, which bridges the gap between verification/qualification and certification testing, in a single hybrid test solution.

The TestPro is a modular test system that spans Verification/Qualification/Qualification+/Certification depending on which test adapters are used.

  • The TestPro CV100 – K30 is a Qualification+ tester.  This kit provides Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) based Multi-gigabit link speed testing while under both traffic and PoE load if a PSE is present.  It reports link speed and per pair headroom for 2.5, 5, 10GigE.  This test as well as others such as PoE, are performed into a switch, which means the two TestPro’s that come in a kit can be independently deployed, thus doubling testing capacity.  However, if a switch is not present, the two test platform that come in the kit can perform this measurement connected on each end of the cable and testing into each other.  For PoE support, the TestPro supports 802.3 af/at/bt, and UPoE with load testing, PSE configuration detail and external load monitoring.  Additionally, a DC Resistance Unbalance measurement can be made either as a stand-alone test or as part of the Category Autotest as part of ensuring the physical cable can adequately support the required PoE application. Wired network connectivity testing including switch and VLAN detail, traceroute and ping can be performed.  Using an optional Edimax dual-band wi-fi adapter, wireless AP troubleshooting can also be performed to understand available SSIDs, their signal strength, ping and traceroute.  Lastly, a fully standards compliant bi-directional cable certification test for CAT3 – CAT6A can also be performed, with view only test results.  This is a good option for IT organizations and system integrator that just need to know if the cabling system passes traditional cable certification, but don’t require printed reports.
  • The TestPro CV100 – K50 and K60 are Certifiers, and provide standards compliant bi-directional testing with the ability to store over 10,000 test results in memory, but can offload to the TestDataPro Cloud service while testing, or at a later time with TestDataPro PC based software.  The channel and permanent link Autotest can be run with standard test parameters, or configured with “+” parameters, such as TCL, ELTCTL, DC Resistance Unbalance, ACRN and more and still maintain an amazing 6 second Autotest time for CAT6A, event with every possible additional test parameter activated.  The TestPro is also a 3GHZ platform, ensuring headroom for future growth in the standards.  The K60 is a complete Smart Building test system with all capability noted above for the K30 in addition to copper certification.  The K50 is dedicated to copper certification.  However, to note, ALL TestPro’s can support wireless testing and access through use of an optional Edimax USB wireless adapter.
  • TestPro also offers the K11, K51, K61 which add Singlemode and Multimode fiber optic testing capability.
  • The new Network Service Assistant (NSA), with Certi-Lite was the catalyst for the Qualification+ designation.  Using a small passive terminator on remote end, it can provide a standards compliant single ended cable test and provides a Pass/Fail indication for CAT3 – CAT6A.  This test includes all RF parameters called out in ANSI/TIA1152A. The NSA provides Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) based Multi-gigabit link speed testing while under both traffic and PoE load if a PSE is present.  It reports link speed and per pair headroom for 2.5, 5, 10GigE. For PoE support, the TestPro supports 802.3 af/at/bt, and UPoE with load testing, PSE configuration detail and external load monitoring.  Wired network connectivity testing including switch and VLAN detail, traceroute and ping can be performed.  Using an optional Edimax dual-band wi-fi adapter, wireless AP troubleshooting can also be performed to understand available SSIDs, their signal strength, ping and traceroute.   This is a good option for IT organizations and system integrator that just need to know if the cabling system meets the test limits specified for each category as defined in 1152A.  The NSA allows storing and printing of Autotest results, and is supported by TestDataPro PC based and TestDataPro Cloud results management applications.

On emerging technologies driving change: The first topic I would highlight is Power over Ethernet, because as intelligent building deployments continue to grow in popularity, PoE is a core technology for these deployments.  AEM’s testing capabilities provided users with multiple ways to verify support of this technology for their given applications.  In short, we support “RealPower” PoE load testing for 802.3 af/at/bt and UPoE, DC Resistance Unbalance and External load monitoring including per pair SNR.

As either a stand-alone test or as part of a cable certification Autotest, the tester can initiate additional “+” parameters to execute a DC Resistance Unbalance measurement.  When a cable is used for PoE, it is important to ensure that DC resistance of all wires is closely matched. Differences of resistance between pairs, or between wires within a pair can cause degradation which could inhibit the ability to provide full power needed over the link under test.  TestPro’s 6-second autotest includes full characterization of DC resistance parameters, including all combinations of loop resistance, pair-to-pair resistance unbalance, and wire-to-wire resistance unbalance as well as all of the standard tests required for certification compliance, and in accordance with cable manufacturer warranty programs.  

For actual PoE testing, think of the test equipment as taking the place of the end device that requires power, by emulating that device.  The user would unplug the device from the network and plug the AEM tester into that jack.  A user then tells the tester what level of PoE is needed to support the device, i.e. 802.3 af/at/bt, UPoE, and the tester begins negotiating with the PSE and demands that level of power from it.  This full test provides users with not only the basic PSE configuration information such as PSE type, pairs used, and what the allocated power is, but it takes it to the next level to give users the ultimate piece of information they really need, which is how much power is available at the jack under load to support a given PD.  This is reported in Current/Wattage/Voltage to show “RealPower” available at the jack.

Finally, our test equipment also supports sustained load monitoring.  This is very useful to view and identify intermittent power drops, by being able to sit in-line between the PSE and an external power load set to the amount of power required by the PD.  The TestPro or Network Service Assistant will then monitor power fluctuation to help identify intermittent power issues as well as changes in Signal to Nosie Ratio (SNR) values by pair. 

The second topic to highlight is Single Pair Ethernet, this is a topic very close to AEM as we have been supporting this technology in Automotive wiring harness testing for a number of years.  AEM is part of the IEEE committee writing the 802.3cg standard, and we have created test adapters for our modular TestPro CV100 cable certifier to supporting field testing of this technology.  AEM is also an active member of the TIA SPEC, and Ethernet Alliance with a focus on SPE technology.

In the world of 5G, our WideOptix-SR4 provides an objective validation of Multimode Fiber Optic cable bandwidth to ensure performance of MPO Cables to meet the requirements of 100GBASE-SR4 standard using Eye-Diagram analysis.  The WideOptix SR4 would be used by the service provider prior to cable deployment to ensure cable quality prior to install.  This helps in faster troubleshooting should a problem arise.  Traditional Tier 1 Multimode fiber certification, does not suffice for these types of high-speed cable.  The WideOptix-SR4 ensures 100Gig per second over MPO, by testing 25Gig per channel on each of the 8 channels, providing assurance to cable can support the application, something simple loss measurement, cannot adequality do.

On test results storing and management: AEM includes access to TestDataPro Cloud and TestDataPro PC based results management applications.  We offer two methods as some customers prefer to be able to upload test results as they are testing to the cloud with either a wired or wireless internet connection, while others prefer to keep test data within Tester and direct connect to PC.  A great benefit of our cloud service, is the ability to get help from a more senior project manager, if a technician is having a problem getting a cable to pass in the field.  The project manager can easily view details of test files from anywhere to help the technician troubleshooting and resolve the issue.

TestDataPro allows users to organize test results into a hierarchy including building/floor/room/rack/etc. or just a simple list for each project.

Users have several options with regard to how they might want their reporting data be it native format, .pdf, or .csv.  Results are provided in a Summary Report - A single report with a high-level summary at beginning and induvial detailed pages for each test, or an Individual Report for each test.

For those supporting intelligent buildings, the summary report showing copper certification data, fiber certification data, and Multi-gig link speed and PoE results is one of the more popular report formats.  This allows the user to provide to the customer a complete infrastructure support report that includes all aspects of connectivity and link speed.

Once in while a technician may inadvertently run let’s say a CAT6 test configuration, when it was supposed to be a CAT6A test configuration.  It could be a costly endeavor to have to go back and re-test, but TestDataPro is able to re-certify the link through software by using the stored test files.  This could represent thousands of dollars in savings from having to go back out on site and re-test.

Pre-defined labeling is often desired to ensure accuracy once on site.  Users can create their labeling scheme in excel and imported into TestDataPro, which can then export that labeling scheme into TestPro.

Custom test limits are also supported and can be configured outside the system in .csv, and imported into the TestDataPro and then into TestPro.

Keeping the test equipment up to date with the latest software is important, and TestDataPro allows an easy method for obtain the latest firmware updates for importing into the test equipment.

Lastly, pdf. Files of user manuals are also kept in TestDataPro for easy access at any time.  This also ensure the very latest version are easily accessible.


On certification, qualification, verification: Fiber optic testing no longer commands a one size fits all approach as today’s practices are finely tuned to suit the demands of a given situation.  A national communication service provider (CSP) is faced with a very different reality to that of a data center, or a small enterprise LAN.  To address these demands CSP’s have long favored reflectometry products such as EXFO’s MaxTester OTDRs and Optical Explorer whereas enterprise and data centers have looked to Optical Loss Test Sets (OLTS).

OLTS provide high-speed testing collecting results which are then compared to limits specified within standards bodies such as ISO, IEC and TIA.  This practice is often called certification, but lines have blurred in recent years as users also select light source/power meter and OTDR products offering similar capabilities to address factors such as cost, complexity, fault finding and MPO.  New enterprise applications such as distributed antenna systems for 5G, or passive optical LANs are also impacting tester choice with users looking to solutions such as PON Meters and iOLM based OTDRs.  

Although a one size fits all solution will never be sufficient alone a new category in test is gaining universal appeal and that is the Optical Fiber Multimeter.  This new breed in fiber verification and fault-finding provides a comprehensive set of measurements with the ease of operating a power meter.

On emerging technologies driving change: An emerging technology in the Fiber to the Home (FTTH) segment is the use of unbalanced or tapered splitters in rural fiber broadband deployments.  In sparsely populated regions, distances between dwellings are longer, requiring Passive Optical Network (PON) designs best suited to long fiber runs.  In the balanced splitters used in metro areas, the split levels are symmetric.  For example, in a balanced 1x8 power splitter, each leg receives 1/8 or 12.5% of the input power level.  In the unbalanced power splitter world, manufacturers offer a range of options to network designers, for example from 60%/40% to 98%/2% in typical 1x2 products.  Unbalanced splitters are generally smaller than balanced splitters, allowing them to be pole-mounted to reduce construction costs.

EXFO’s iOLM intelligent Optical Link Mapper v8.34 on the MAX-730C and FTB/FTBx-730C has support for time domain reflectometry testing of PONs using unbalanced splitters.  iOLM has support for up to twelve spliced or pre-connectorized tapered splitters per fiber link, using any power split ratio, with intuitive tapered splitter icons.  This makes it easy and efficient to certify and troubleshoot unbalanced splitter networks, future proofing EXFO’s 730C OTDR test set as fiber broadband deployments increasingly move into rural areas.

On test results storing and management: As new fiber networks are rolled out to meet the capacity and speeds required by access technologies and high-value services, ensuring quality installation is crucial. In challenging field testing environments, test process automation is one of the most valuable tools available to reduce human errors and improve compliance with network operators’ standards.

Telecom providers know what performance and capacity they need to get out of their networks, whether the fiber use centers around fiber-to- the-home (FTTH) residential or enterprise installations or fiber-to- the-antenna (FTTA) or distributed antenna systems (DAS) for wireless fronthaul. Most operators have detailed documentation on how to construct and validate fiber links to their own specific requirements and network design strategies. These methods and procedures documents, or M&Ps, are often updated and changed to reflect evolving best practices, making it difficult to ensure that all technicians and project teams are working from the most current version. They are also lengthy: typically more than 50 pages. This makes them unwieldy to use on-site and difficult to reference in the field, and it is all too easy for required processes to be missed or only partially completed.

M&Ps also establish labelling regimes and testing thresholds that are unique to each operator and can differ across installation types. FTTH deployments are highly variable and require technicians to accurately enter even more data. Technicians try to avoid mistakes, but repetitive data entry is a difficult task in the field: tests may need to be performed with multiple test sets that have multiple user interfaces, M&Ps cross-checked, and so on. A significant percentage of test results have data-entry errors, from results not being saved or being lost, to tests being skipped, performed to the wrong threshold or associated with the wrong fiber, cable or location.

EXFO’s TestFlow turns an inefficient and highly manual field-testing approach into one that is consistent and simplified, and makes the best use of valuable time with the following functionality:

1.      M&P-based are digitized job definitions with predefined test-point IDs (e.g. for fiber/bulkhead connectors), required tests (e.g. fiber-connector inspection) and applicable test configurations with design pass/fail thresholds for techs to successfully complete on-site work.

2.      Managers or the system (via API) distribute jobs to techs’ test instrument and mobile devices.

3.      Technicians run consistent job-specific test sequences using an all-in-one intuitive test-unit / mobile-device application with a single user interface and support for multiple tests and measurements without the need of other applications or manuals – automated step-by- step tasks and job closeout with dynamic test-sequence reporting and test/task-sensitive instructions.

4.      Technicians automatically upload test results with predefined filenames to TestFlow’s centralized servers for results-to- metrics processing and immediate closeout-package audit for completeness.

5.      Managers analyze user-defined testing metrics from the centralized TestFlow database using web-based analytics dashboards and reporting tools to verify compliance and review work.

Field test process automation with TestFlow means more productive use of both techs’ and managers’ time, improved compliance with operator standards and more accurate and timely data from the frontline, leading to better, faster network deployments.

Fluke Networks

On certification, qualification, verification: The type of cable testing needed is tied to the individual’s time horizon.  Certification testers such as our Versiv System make sense for a building owner who wants to know their installation will support many applications into future decades.  Versiv automates much of the process - great for customers such as installation contractors performing high volumes of testing.  Qualification testers such as our CableIQ are good for the network manager who wants to know if their current application (for example, 1000BASE-T) will run.  Verification testers such as our MicroScanner PoE are best for the tech who wants to fix the problem that showed up this morning.

Some vendors today are offering what could be called “functional” testing, where the tester makes an Ethernet connection and generates maximum-bandwidth traffic.  This sort of testing can be useful in the hands of a network engineer but can be dangerous on a live business network.  More important, these sorts of testers show only that the specific transceivers (or Network Interface Cards / NICs) within the tester can communicate at that moment – they do not actually measure the performance of the cable.  Further, there’s no consideration of “margin” – for example, will the performance degrade if the temperature changes?

Our testers use standards-based measurements which include appropriate margins to ensure that tested links meet performance requirements and that compliant devices can communicate over the link under a variety of conditions.

On emerging technologies driving change: PoE is driving the adoption of new test capabilities. The resistance properties of cabling channels take on a new importance when you’re delivering power. Both the bulk resistance of the wire pairs (Loop Resistance) and the relative resistance of individual conductors (Resistive Balance) become important for cabling certification.

When it comes time to install PoE powered devices the immediate challenge is to make sure the power requirements for the device can be met by the servicing switch port. New testers coming to market recently facilitate a quick verification of the switch port capabilities and reduce any need to engage the IT department for configuration info. And while it’s not a test technology, the new Ethernet Alliance PoE certification program will make installing devices more trouble free than ever.

SPE applications and cabling will drive the development of new test capabilities. What is showing itself to be the most broadly applied and primary volume driver for SPE is the 10BASE-T1 application. The slowest of the SPE applications, it also has the longest reach. Cabling systems, being standardized as we speak, are defined for 400 m and 1,000 m reach. These lengths require new performance capabilities for test equipment. Additionally, the slower 10BASE-T1 application operates in a lower frequency band that goes down to 0.1 MHz. Combined, these attributes challenge test equipment manufacturers to maintain their certification quality accuracies.  The good news is that it will be at least a year before those technologies begin deployment, giving vendors time to develop solutions.

On test results storing and management: Our LinkWare solution has provided results management for our testers for over twenty years with trusted reporting accepted by over 30 cabling manufacturers.  We support two versions of the offering.  First, the original PC-based version (LinkWare PC) boasts tens of thousands of users and provides a tamper-proof “flw” format that guarantees authenticity of results.  Second, the cloud version (LinkWare Live) was launched in 2015, and just surpassed the milestone of 50 million test results uploaded.  Aside from results management, LinkWare Live provides:

  • Remote set-up of multiple testers, reducing errors
  • Management of cable identifiers across multiple testers and labelers
  • Automatically organize multiple results from multiple testers across jobsites
  • Access of job progress and results from any smart device
  • Tracking of tester location, software version and calibration status

LinkWare Live integrates with solutions from Brady, Brother, Dymo and Epson, for fast, error free labeling. Our latest integration allows users of the Planet IRM Infrastructure Management platform instant access to cable test results in LinkWare Live for the industry’s first “network map to wire map” offering.

NetAlly  (Responses provided by James Kahkoska, chief technology officer)

On certification, qualification, verification: While NetAlly has focused primarily on live network testing (wired Ethernet and 802.11 Wi-Fi), we recognize the need among ICT professionals (from contractors to field service/MSP teams and end-users at enterprise organizations) to understand the quality of their media infrastructure as measured by the quality of data frame transmission from one end of the media to the other. Cable certification is a bit “theoretical” – it posits that if a particular cable run meets the parametric requirements of the TIA standard (it is “certified” to that standard) then it will carry certain IEEE communications protocol frames, such as IEEE 10GBASE-T, error free.

Note: there is a distinction between “frames” and “packets” – packets are units of data in the Network Layer (layer 3, or IP), frames are units of data in the Link Layer (Layer 2, Ethernet).

Cable certification tools require complex, expensive circuitry and algorithms to test the parametric parameters like NEXT, FEXT and Alien Crosstalk as required by the TIA standard. A practical alternative to this is to saturate the media with actual network traffic for a designated time to ensure that all frames are transported error free. While there are some advantages and warranty requirements for TIA certification at the time of installation, the reality is after “day zero” installation, that there are many benefits to media qualification using high volumes of real frames rather than parametric substitutes. For example, when upgrading to newer access points that require 2.5G links, it can be determined if the existing installed cabling is already capable of carrying 100% utilization of 2.5GBASET traffic for 24 hours, saving an expensive cabling upgrade.

NetAlly uses the name LANBERT™ for this technology, and we are pleased to announce its availability next month (May 2021) as a software upgrade for the EtherScope® nXG Portable Network Expert analyzer and the LinkRunner® 10G Advanced Ethernet Tester. The LANBERT Performance Test App provides a flexible, easy way to validate the quality of “dark media” and media components, such as SFPs, wall and patch panels, and patch cables. LANBERT sends network traffic between NetAlly testers, devices capable of layer 1 loopback, or a media physical loopback (fiber or 10/100 Ethernet). Owners of these instruments will be able to upgrade their software free of charge to add this new capability.

In a single hour, over 53 billion frames (at 10G) are sent and received from both ends, full duplex; LANBERT can detect if even a single bit is corrupted. An additional advantage is that unlike the temporal TIA certification where competitors compete based on minimum test time, LANBERT can be used to “soak test” the media over many hours. A 24-hour test (over 1.28 trillion frames at 10G) may reveal that a conveyor belt static buildup corrupts the media every couple of hours or when the humidity is low, for example. Seeing the errors graphically trended in time, with the ability to zoom in on any error with 1-second granularity is a valuable tool in getting to the root cause of the corruption.

In operation, external events such as ESD discharges, EMF pulses from motors, noise, even movement of the media can not only cause bit errors but may prevent certain technologies from linking at the designated speed causing a downshift to the next lower rate.  In addition to monitoring for bit errors, signal to noise ratio (SNR) and delay skew are simultaneously monitored to further understand the available SNR margin on the cable as the current link speed.

Additionally, LANBERT can be used on fiber links when troubleshooting or adding capacity. For example, when deploying additional strands of fiber in an existing bundle between floors, or buildings on a campus, or even metros up to 80km, LANBERT can be using to qualify the media for error free operation. Unlike optical fiber certification, the actual SFPs that will be deployed in the switches can be used in the tester to ensure the entire ecosystem, a viable alternative to fiber inspection. Likewise, Direct Access Cables (DAC) can be qualified prior to data center usage. LANBERT can even be used with a simple fiber loopback dongle to qualify a dubious 1G/10G SFP+ prior to deployment.

It is important to note that while testing a media plant with LANBERT (or other tools that offer similar function) is a good way to validate the foundation of the infrastructure, it is not sufficient to ensure proper live network operation. The qualification of key network services from PoE to link speed/duplex, VLAN configuration, DHCP/DNS services – and even the actual end user response time of pulling a web page – is essential to confirm the operational aspects of a network.

Additionally, it is critical to understand that BERT-style testing is not sufficient for characterizing the overall quality of packet transmission across a production network (either during turn-up or when fully operational), through a switched (layer 2) and routed (layer 3) infrastructure. For this purpose, testers capable of IP-packet transmission at line rate, with appropriate L2 and L3 controls (VLAN and QoS configurations) and multiple packet streams of varying configuration are necessary.

Every NetAlly wired Ethernet tester provides basic cable “verification” – which seems to be understood in the industry as testing to determine whether a particular cable or link is wired properly, that is, no mis-wires, opens, shorts, split pairs or other physical impairments as determined through TDR (time-domain reflectometry) testing. Additionally, the testers can conduct pin-to-pin continuity testing (“wire mapping”), and office/jack location identification by way of a cable terminator. Most are also capable of injecting a digital or analog tone for cable tracing. These tools include the EtherScope nXG, the LinkRunner family of products, AirCheck G2, and LinkSprinter.

On emerging technologies driving change: The progression of technology is a constant challenge for network professionals. As a valued partner, NetAlly is always tracking technology developments, and offers solutions for the inevitable problems that come with those changes. Trends of the past will continue (new wired and Wi-Fi speeds and standards, the use of the network for power distribution, and so on) and our customers can expect new products and product updates to meet those developments.

On test result storing and management: Serving as a secure, centralized test results, analysis, and tester management system, NetAlly’s free Link-Live™ Cloud Service transforms team workflows with the ability to quickly and easily log, document, and report test activity from all NetAlly hand-held network testers and analyzers. Once the instrument is connected to the Link-Live Cloud service, test results can be automatically uploaded to the dashboard for project management, analysis, collaboration, and reporting (test results done during “offline” use are buffered for later upload, when a network connection is available.) Users have the option of uploading additional files, screenshots, images, profiles, packet captures, location information, and comments anytime. Also, certain NetAlly instruments with AllyCare Support can receive firmware updates “over the network” from Link-Live as they become available. In addition, AllyCare enables access to certain advanced features in Link-Live.

Installers, systems integrators and MSPs appreciate that there is no licensing or fees associated with the use of Link-Live, and that there is no limit to the number of people accessing the data, organizations (a way of grouping testers), and test results, making it a valuable reporting and collaboration tool.

Most importantly, Link-Live is the cornerstone of NetAlly’s AirMapper Ecosystem – an interoperable set of products for the survey, validation, and troubleshooting of Wi-Fi installations. As the first Wi-Fi heatmapping service in the cloud, AirMapper allows any technician to conduct site data collection from a NetAlly AirCheck G2 or EtherScope nXG. Once uploaded, a centralized expert can analyze the site, freely collaborate with others inside or outside the organization, and generate reports.

Link-Live also can be used to automatically generate network topology diagrams from network discovery data gathered by certain NetAlly test instruments, providing a way to have “up-to-the-minute accurate” network maps.


On certification, qualification, verification: The fundamental concept of certification (as provided by Softing’s WireXpert) is that it is testing the physical properties of the cable – things like insertion loss, crosstalk and so on, against a defined standard (for example from TIA or ISO).  A good example of this would be the 2.5Gbit/s and 5Gbit/s Ethernet standards.  You could have a building with a certified Category 6A installation that was done years before those Ethernet standards were invented, but because those applications are designed to run on Category 6A cables, you know with certainty that you can buy the new 5Gbit/s switches and it will work.

Qualification (as provided by Softing’s NetXpert XG range) on the other hand is based on testing the application that you actually want to run.  The advantage is that you are directly proving that (for example) 2.5Gbit/s Ethernet is actually running on the link.  This type of test can be run with almost no training and can be easier to explain to IT technicians in troubleshooting situations, as compared to the rather abstract-sounding numbers contained in a certification report.  If you have a Bit Error Rate Test (BERT) with zero errors on the application that interests you, this can be more reassuring than a crosstalk number in dB.  A smart application tester such as the NetXpert XG provides easy to interpret results and even the ability for a colleague or second opinion service to connect remotely and help with a challenging problem or in cases of plant restrictions or area lockdowns.

Verification (as provided by Softing’s Cablemaster range) refers to simple testers that establish correct wiring.  These are very useful as an initial check for errors when a link is installed.  With good quality cables and connectors, most installation failures will be due to simple errors where the wires are connected to the wrong pins, or a short circuit has been caused by careless wire stripping.  Softing also offers enhanced verification testers that can detect more subtle faults such as split pairs where the pins are connected correctly at each end, but using the wrong pairing inside the cable.  Such links will fail certification later in the process.  Because verification testers are low cost, it makes sense for anyone installing cables to use one to check for the obvious errors right away, so that time is not wasted later during the more lengthy and expensive certification or qualification process.

On emerging technologies driving change: Power over Ethernet (PoE) is now very widely deployed and continues to grow in importance.  Any new installations will typically need to be tested for PoE use, which means testing against the very stringent requirements for DC resistance unbalance both between pairs and within a pair.  Softing provides this capability with enhanced test adapters for the WireXpert.  A key benefit of this approach is that it can be used with any WireXpert model purchased since 2009, so there is no need to buy a whole new tester to support PoE testing. 

The rapid growth in bandwidth demand over Wi-Fi has created new challenges in copper testing.  High-performance Wi-Fi access points demand faster copper connections back to the core network switches, and this area is where we see a lot of interest in proving 2.5Gbit to 10Gbit Ethernet speeds using the BERT test with the Softing NetXpert XG. 

Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) is clearly a hot topic now across multiple industries and applications, and Softing is active in the standards committees that are currently working to create practical and useful standards for SPE.  These developments are particularly important for the further development of applications such as smart buildings and Industry 4.0 where there is a demand for very large numbers of IP-connected sensors and devices at a low installed cost.

On test result storing and management: Data management is an essential part of a test system – the installer or system integrator needs to be able to present his or her client with a clear and concise report either on paper or electronically, that is standards-compliant and proves that the work done meets the required specification.  Achieving this on real-world, multi-tester projects requires a comprehensive set of data management tools that deal with the practical difficulties. 

For example, if a link fails and is then rectified, the client only wants to see the good result in the right place in the report.  On-site, the technicians may not have all followed the same naming conventions or project hierarchies, despite the best efforts of the project manager.  Softing’s eXport software provides flexible features to help assemble all the results from multiple source files into a well-structured and professional final report.  In extreme cases it is even possible that the wrong test limit was used on-site, in which case the eXport software is able to re-certify the raw test data against the correct standard. 

Cloud-based data services have their conveniences but issues such as monthly fees for hosting the service, the risk of getting “locked in” to an endless contract with uncertain future costs, and the legal challenges when storing client data on third-party servers outside the company’s control often limits their adoption.  Softing’s cloud solution allows the installer to run the cloud server in-house, under the control of the company’s own IT department.  This avoids any recurring costs and provides complete control over the data security. 

Another clever approach to project management is the ability to reassign local testers to behave as remote testers.  Meaning, because of the Dual Control System from Softing, you can have one local tester in a main distribution frame while 3 other testers are reconfigured as remote testers.  The remote testers are now walking around the building or campus while the local stays put at the MDF.  This is a huge time saver and only possible because you have identical screens and identical main processors at both ends of the cable.

Trend Networks, formerly Ideal Networks (Responses provided by Dan Barrera, global product manager, data cable testers)

On certification, qualification, verification: For customers who need performance reporting that doesn’t have to comply with the requirements of formal cable certification TREND Networks (formerly IDEAL Networks) offers the SignalTEK line of transmission testers, sometimes known as qualifiers. Transmission testers work by sending Ethernet frames through the transmission medium, re-transmitting them from the far end, and counting the return frames. The common term used for this is a bit error ratio test (BERT), though for simplicity our testers report the number of lost frames rather than the sum of the bits that are lost. The great part about transmission testing is that the pass/fail determination is easily quantifiable because the limits are specified in the IEEE Ethernet standards, much like TIA creates performance standards for cable certification. Transmission testing is the norm used by every telecom company and we’ve simplified it for use in the LAN.

TREND Networks now offers transmission testers in 1Gb and 10Gb versions called the SignalTEK NT and the SignalTEK 10G. Within each range there are variants that test copper cable only, copper and fiber, or copper and fiber, plus active network transmission testing. Additionally, SignalTEK 10G also supports the new Multigig standards for 2.5G and 5G testing so it can definitively tell users whether existing cabling can be upgraded with Multigig to extend capability without the need for re-cabling.

In addition to qualifying cabling and networks for available bandwidth the active LAN versions of SignalTEK can also perform a wide range of network diagnostic and troubleshooting tests further increasing their use case.

Lastly, transmission testers are much more affordable than certifiers, starting at about one fifth of the cost of a certifier. Certifiers are designed to provide the capability and near-accuracy of a $100,000+ laboratory vector network analyzer packed into a durable handheld field-tester. As such, the designs are one-off high-frequency analog instruments and are exceedingly expensive to manufacture. Transmission testers utilize off-the-shelf digital communications components that simplify the design and manufacture, leading to lower costs to measure the same grade of cable as a certifier.

On emerging technologies driving change: There are several new or advancing technologies that TREND Networks is addressing with new products such as Multigig/NBASE-T and Type 3/Type 4 PoE. Multigig and NBASE-T began as competing technologies that sought to increase the bandwidth that could be delivered over category 5e and 6 cabling for the purposes of giving network owners a second option to re-cabling to support new applications. They have since been ratified under a common standard called IEEE 802.3bz and it essentially allows 10Gb Ethernet to “downshift” to 5Gb or 2.5Gb on cabling that cannot support 10Gb at 100 meters (328 ft).

Our SignalTEK 10G is a new Ethernet Bandwidth tester that will perform a series of tests including a Maximum Bandwidth test to determine the exact bandwidth that cabling, or an active LAN channel, can support. We do this by using a process called a binary chop which starts by flooding the link with 10Gb/s and testing for lost frames. Then it reduces the speed by 50% and if no frames are lost, it will increase the speed by 50% and continue this process until it zeros in on the maximum error-free sustained bandwidth to a resolution of 1% of the link speed.

Another new standard to address is IEEE 802.3bt which is the specification for high power PoE, commonly called HPoE or PoE++. This specification allows for up to 90 watts of power delivery over a category 5e (or better) cable - enough power for next generation wireless access points, video displays, computer terminals, lighting, and many other applications.

An issue faced by installers and integrators is the ability to determine whether new or existing cabling and the PoE network devices can deliver the expected power over a data line. Merely detecting the advertised power is not enough, the system must be checked under load to ensure all the components are working together to meet the requirements of the IEEE 802.3bt specification. To solve the question of PoE compliance, TREND Networks offers the PoE Pro which provides an immediate Pass/Fail indication based on the type of PoE source detected. For example, when a Class 6 PoE source is detected the PoE Pro will put a load on the line and verify that the delivered power is between 51 and 60 watts. The user does not need to remember the power range for each of the 8 classes, the tester will display a PASS if the power is within limits and a FAIL if enough power is not available.

On test result storing and management: TREND Networks launched AnyWARE Cloud which is a complete project management and reporting system that is entirely cloud based and can be used with a web browser on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices. The system works with our new generation of cable certifiers and transmission testers allowing project managers to create projects and test configurations in the office while field technicians sync the projects to the tester via the internet. This process virtually eliminates the most common field-testing errors which are incorrect IDs and test setups. Completed tests are transferred back to the cloud where full analysis of the test tables and plots can be done as well as attaching photos, plans and other supporting documentation.

After verification of results, test reports are easily created and emailed to customers directly via the cloud or project files can be sent to cabling manufacturers for warranty verification.

Connected test equipment also makes technical support faster and easier because our latest testers can be remotely viewed and controlled using the Team Viewer Live Support feature. Suppose a field technician is getting unexpected failures and needs assistance diagnosing the problem. They can get help from a remote colleague or TREND Networks’ technical support team by connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot and letting the remote support person see what is on the screen and even run additional measurements to troubleshoot the cabling or network issues. Remote access has changed the way field support is offered and eliminates the headaches of trying to describe what test results are displayed. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words and remote access eliminates many thousands of words.

Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.

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