Copper Coated Aluminium and the effects on Data Cabling
Copper-clad aluminium wire, commonly abbreviated as CCAW or CCA, is an electrical conductor composed of an inner aluminium core and outer copper cladding. Copper clad aluminium is widely used in applications requiring the conductivity of copper with the belief that it retains the same frequency, with the weight advantages of aluminium but at much less cost. Win, win, win….it would seem!
The copper/aluminium construction was adopted to avoid some of the problems with aluminium wire, yet retain some of the cost advantage. CCA became extremely popular on emerging markets as a cheap replacement for copper category 5e twisted pair cables.
- Lighter than pure copper
- Higher electrical conductivity than pure aluminium
- Higher strength than aluminium
- Better solder ability than aluminium, due to the lack of the oxide layer which prevents solder adhesion when soldering bare aluminium.
- Less expensive than a pure copper wire
- Typically produced as a 10% or 15% by copper volume product
It is commonly believed that even though the material is 90% aluminium, the wire has high frequency electrical properties equal to solid copper; however this is not the case.
A recent article by Mike Gilmore of the Fibre Optic Industry Association highlighted their concerns that both the consumer and a number of installers were unwittingly using CCA as they were unaware of the pitfalls and driven by the much cheaper cost. Mike stated that “a combination of issues can result in serious problems during installation and operation, which can have significant cost implication for the unwary installer and customer alike”
With the increase in price of copper the cheaper alternative of CCA is very appealing and unless there is an awareness of the downsides then there could be a greater hidden cost involved to those who have unwittingly made it the product of choice and it fails to meet its expectations.
- CCA has less strength than pure Copper cable, which will ultimately cause slowness or possibly cease to work at all.
- Aluminium is not as strong as copper, it is not as malleable and therefore more inclined to break.
- Patch leads, which are commonly bought on cost, are the weakest link in any infrastructure but the use of CCA in Patch leads will weaken them further, again ultimately causing loss of speed or complete shutdown.
- CCA will not dissipate the heat as Copper will; the increased temperatures could cause a number of issues, from speed to safety. The safety aspect of heat within CCA has yet to be fully analysed but it has been suggested by the FIA that any temptation to use CCA should be avoided particularly where there is poor ventilation or when the cable is to be routed through insulating materials.
The impact on the Data cabling industry could that misleading information would damage reputation and cause a loss of faith. Some of the CCA conductors are incorrectly labelled as CAT5 cables and this alone resulted in a White Paper IAN002 being published in October 2011 stating clearly that the CCA cabling does not conform to any Category based specification, either European or North American.
The white paper also highlighted that customers are often requesting the use of CCA because they are not fully aware of the boundaries of the product and the low cost is such a motivational factor.