August 14, 2018

Cable: Counterfeit vs. Quality

[3.5 Minute Read] 

When purchasing structured cable, cost is often at the forefront of decision making. However, in the world we live in, research should be the determining factor. It’s estimated that as much as 20% of the cable for sale in the market today is unsafe, unapproved, or counterfeit.

Non-compliant cable is dangerous. Not only is it illegal but it will endanger the safety of your organization. Installing non-compliant cable can result in building and fire code violations and lead to monetary damages. On top of that, network performance will suffer, so it feels like you’re back to square one.  

Cheap cable will cost you.

Searching for a bargain isn’t always the best way to go. Especially when shady manufacturers are faking compliance and listing certifications they don’t actually have. With that in mind, you need to make sure you know what to look for in a quality cable and buy from a reputable vendor.

So what are some indications of Counterfeit vs. Quality?


If it sounds too good to be true … Then it’s probably too good to be true. If you see a 1000 ft. box of cable priced surprisingly low remember that you get what you pay for. Cable is priced fairly consistently, with discounts stemming from buying in bulk or buying straight from the source. Otherwise, be cautious.


If the box feels lighter than normal it could be a sign of counterfeit cable. To cut costs when manufacturing some companies will use undersized copper conductors or copper-clad aluminum conductors which weigh half as much as real cables do. Some manufacturers won’t even put the cable on a spool.

UL Listed 

No UL number is an instant indication of counterfeit cables, but many counterfeit cables will still show a fake UL symbol on the packaging. Verify the UL listing by looking for the E followed by numbers and confirming it on the UL Product iQ Database. Additionally, every box of UL Listed Cable requires a holographic label. Labels like “Plenum Approved” are no substitute for a true UL listing. 

ETL Logo
UL Holographic Listing

ETL Logo

Again, counterfeiters will use ETL logos if they are certified or not. Checking for the presence of the ETL logo is a good start but that isn’t enough. You can check the Intertek Directory of Listed Products to verify the cable. You can also ask the manufacturer for the ETL test results, if they are legitimate they should happily send them over.

Visual Cues 

Does the cable look low quality? Does the packaging have apparent problems, spelling mistakes, or grammatical errors? If you haven’t purchased the cable yet and you’re just looking online, is it an unfamiliar brand and manufacturer? Is the cable only available online from low quality websites? These are all red flags! Buy from a reputable source.


100% annealed copper is required for all category cables. Copper clad aluminum conductors (CCA) are in violation of TIA 568-C.2 and UL 444. These cheaper impostors are more likely to break and perform poorly. To check, strip the cable and inspect the conductors.

CCA vs Copper Cable Example


The Communications Cable & Connectivity Association (CCCA) has a free CableCheck App that can be used as a field-screening tool and checklist. It is available from the App Store and Google Play. Use the app to confirm that your cable is compliant. You can also check the CCCA website for more information on counterfeit cables, their fight against it, and real life case studies on encounters with counterfeit cable.

It’s easy to mistake counterfeit cables for the real thing if you don’t do your homework. By researching your cable vendor and manufacturer you can ensure that you get compliant cable. ASD proudly offers end-to-end structured cabling solutions. Our iCAT product line meets and exceeds industry standards and performance. To learn more check out our information sheet below.

Learn More About iCAT Cable

About the author 

Brent Otwell

Brent has been in the low voltage industry for two decades. His successful track record and passion for the team led to his promotion in 2019 when he became Director of Operations. Now, Brent supports the Georgia and North Carolina operations teams and ensures they have the resources they need to deliver projects on time and within budget.

  • Thanks for sharing such an informative blog! I’ll be sure to share it with my colleagues!

  • As I stated in response to your initial posting, I feel very strongly about “bulletproof” quality and in my career of Project Management refused to use piece/part systems to win bids or make a few bucks more. I used all parts from one manufacturer and either their own cable or cable approved to be used with their systems.

    This did 2 things. It gave the client a reliable high performance system with lots of headroom above standards, and it got me the backing of the manufacturers involved with the inevitable problems. Using counterfeit cable removes these advantages.

    I briefly worked somewhere that used the cheapest cable they could find to maximize $ and even admitted they could not stay in business if they used a cable of known quality. I want to work but only if I can deliver high, consistent quality.

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