The Ins and Outs of Third-Party Certification

March 20, 2020 / General, 101 learning, Standard and Certification, Best Practices

Likely you’ve noticed that cable, patch cords and connecting hardware from reputable manufacturers are promoted and labeled as third-party certified, verified or listed. Third-party certification is an extremely important part of our industry, giving you peace of mind that your chosen manufacturer has independently determined that their products comply with industry standards.

But what exactly do these certifications mean, what’s the difference between “listed” and “verified” and how is third-party certification different than certifying that an installed cabling plant meets TIA, ISO/IEC or IEEE standards? Let’s take a closer look.

Why the Third?

When it comes to certifying components, they can be first-party certified, meaning that the manufacturer is self-declaring their products to meet whatever criteria that they themselves have defined for that product. (Doesn’t sound very trustworthy, does it?) Products can also be second-party certified, which typically indicates that a company has created their own certification program and their products meet the criteria identified by that program (still a little fishy sounding). In contrast, third-party certification indicates that a product has been certified by an independent accredited third-party certification body to comply with specific standards for safety, quality or performance.

When products are third-party certified, the accrediting body typically conducts random testing of products at their accredited test lab based on recognized industry standards or regulations. Third-party testing is a time consuming and expensive process for manufacturers, and it is a known cost and time frame that is built into the budget and schedule for the launch of any new product. Manufacturers also pay annual fees to maintain a product’s certification, and they can expect periodic inspections to ensure ongoing conformance.

To keep costs down, manufacturers design their products with certification requirements in mind. Some third-party certifiers offer pre-testing consultations during the design process, and manufacturers might choose to pay for these services to ensure that their final products will pass the big test on the first go around. Third-party certification also means that any modifications to a product must be submitted for retesting and recertification, meaning more time and money.

With all the cost and time involved, some may wonder why manufacturers would choose to go through this process. First and foremost, it is often required by law or code to even sell or install a product within a specific region. In this case, manufacturers have no choice. The other reason for third-party certification is that it instills consumer confidence, enables products to be immediately accepted in the market and demonstrates that the manufacturer has taken the right steps to ensure you’re getting both a safe and effective product.

Listings and Verifications

In our industry, cable components are third-party certified for both safety and performance. When it comes to safety, products are considered “listed,” which is usually a requirement enforced by Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs). In contrast, “verified” is used to indicate electrical transmission performance.

In North America, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listing ensures that cabling components meet safety requirements in accordance with the National Electrical Code (NEC) such as smoke and flame characteristics. These listings are what determine if a cable is rated as riser (CMR) or plenum (CMP) since cables placed in the plenum (air-handling) space used for air circulation must hinder the spread of fire or release of toxic smoke. Similarly, CSA listing by the Canadian Standards Association indicates that a product meets the Canadian Electric Code (CEC). CE and UL listings are virtually interchangeable, and in fact “CSA-US” or “c-UL” indicate that the product meets both U.S. and Canadian standards.

The European Union requires CE listing (referred to as the CE mark) to indicate that a product meets all the health, safety and environmental requirements to be sold throughout the European Economic Area. UL, CSA and CE listings are also recognized in other parts of the world, but some countries may have their own specific safety listings, such as the PSE mark in Japan or the SNI mark for Indonesia.

Another common certification in our industry for cables is Intertek’s ETL certification. Like UL, ETL is considered a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL). When it comes to “listing” a product to demonstrate it meets minimum safety standards, ETL tests to UL standards, and the only real difference between the two listings is the testing laboratory behind them.

Products can also be ETL “verified” for quality and performance, which indicates that the product has been third-party tested to ensure that it meets appropriate ANSI/TIA, ISO/IEC, EN or IEEE performance standards. Unlike listings, verifications are not required because electrical transmission performance does not directly impact human safety. It is however what gives you the confidence that the product you’re installing will provide the performance needed to support the application.

We Don’t Certify, But Our Testers Do

Believe it not, some cabling components out there are touted as “Fluke Certified.” All it takes is a Google or Amazon search to find plenty of cables and patch cords labeled as such—mostly from offshore manufacturers you’ve probably never heard of. But we want to make one thing very clear: Fluke Networks does NOT certify cabling components!

Yes, we manufacturer testers to help you certify an installed cable plant to TIA, ISO/IEC and IEEE standards, but we as a manufacturer never certify any manufacturer’s components. Manufacturers who claim their components are “Fluke Certified” are likely indicating that their components have been “Certified using a Fluke Tester.” What’s not clear is whether or not each component is tested or merely a sample.  Since it’s not clear what is being implied, whenever possible, we take action to get the wording changed.

One exception is in the case of patch cords.  The DSX CableAnalyzer Series can certify patch cords using special Patch Cord Adapters.  Some manufacturers certify every patch cord with the DSX and provide a test report for each, just like a contractor will do for installed cabling.  This can provide an extra degree of confidence that these patch cords are standards compliant, however, as we don’t oversee the process, we ask that they don’t use the term “certified by Fluke”.

So, while we don’t certify components, you can rest assured that your Fluke Networks tester can reliably certify your cabling plant. That’s because our test equipment is certified! Yup, that’s right. Our testers are listed for safety and verified for performance too. In fact, Fluke Networks was the first test equipment vendor to obtain ETL verification to IEC Level V accuracy and ANSI/TIA-1152-A Levels IIIe and 2G.  You can see a copy of the certification letter for the DSX-8000 here.