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Solid Copper vs. Copper Clad Aluminum (CCA) Ethernet Cables

Solid Copper vs. Copper Clad Aluminum (CCA) Ethernet Cables

Networking is expensive, and as a network grows, you can easily spend a fortune just on cables, much less everything else.

It’s normal to look for ways to save money, and one option that is growing in popularity is to use CCA cables for Ethernet connections. These cables are cheaper than traditional Ethernet cables, but they come with a catch.

Let’s take a minute to compare CCA to traditional copper cables and see exactly what you’re trading.

Solid Copper

Solid copper cables are the industry standard for all Ethernet cabling. From older legacy versions through Cat8, every Ethernet cable was designed around solid copper interiors. There are a few reasons for this.

First, copper is a great conductor that works at a low resistance. When you send signals through the wire, it doesn’t create very much heat, and that minimizes signal loss and attenuation. As a result, copper is known for signal quality.

That resistance issue is doubly important for Power over Ethernet (PoE) applications. When you pump power through the cable along with a data signal, any resistance is amplified, and that exacerbates heating issues. Since copper can handle a lot of electricity without getting very hot, it’s ideal for PoE.

In fact, the only material that is clearly superior to solid copper for digital signaling is fiber optics, which is considerably more expensive and complicated.

When it comes to Ethernet, solid copper is the standard. We’re going to directly compare an alternative below, but that standard will come up again and again.

Copper Clad Aluminum (CCA)

Copper-clad aluminum has risen in popularity in recent years. This is a type of Ethernet cable that is made out of aluminum with copper plating that goes around the outside of the aluminum core. This allows the cable to have some of the performance advantages of copper while cutting costs — as aluminum is a much cheaper metal than copper.

The aluminum core also lowers the weight of the cable, which can matter in extremely specific applications.

That said, you just read about the superiority of copper as a conductor, and that is manifested in CCA cables. The aluminum core does not conduct electricity as well as copper. As a result, CCA cables do create more heat under general uses, and they can create dangerous levels of heat under extreme loads, which is why they cannot be used for PoE applications. CCA also is only used for Cat5 and Cat6 Ethernet, as the extra heat makes high-speed Ethernet (Cat7 and Cat8) non-viable.

Overall, the comparison between solid copper and CCA is cost vs performance, so let’s look at some of the specific details and compare the pros and cons directly.

Comparing the Two

Solid copper is superior to CCA in all aspects of performance. Solid copper provides better and faster signals. It produces less heat. It’s also more flexible, making it better for long-distance or sharp-bending cable runs.

The only advantage of CCA is cost, and if your overall Ethernet network includes less than 100 meters of cabling, the cost savings of CCA will be minimal. After all, solid copper Ethernet has come down in price over the years and is quite affordable.

There’s another issue with aluminum. It oxidizes very quickly, and aluminum oxide is a poor conductor of electricity. So, when you cut a CCA cable and terminate it, the aluminum portion of that termination is going to oxidize and fail to conduct electricity, exacerbating performance issues.

Unfortunately, the comparison doesn’t stop here.

Remember when we talked about standards? Well, a lot of professional bodies put a lot of time and energy into those standards, and CCA Ethernet is not recognized by any major standardizing authority. This doesn’t mean CCA cables don’t work, but it does mean that they work below acceptable thresholds set by those authorities.

More importantly, CCA is not approved for internal cable use by the NEC (national electric code). Any use of CCA for PoE applications is a violation of NEC and can create serious problems. On top of that, CCA is not approved to run inside the walls of buildings that are regulated by the NEC (which is every building in the United States).

Let’s clarify. The use of CCA is not automatically a violation of NEC. It’s a problem if you run the cables behind walls, above ceilings, or below flooring. That’s where the fire danger becomes present and creates issues. If you have a simple CCA patch cable running directly from one switch to another, that’s not a violation.

How to Identify CCA

With all of that covered, it’s pretty clear. CCA is a liability in most organizations and not worth the minimal cost savings you can get from it. Solid copper is better.

So, how do you know that you have solid copper?

The easiest way is to buy from a trusted vendor. Cables and Kits does not sell CCA at all and never will. You can trust that any Ethernet you get from us is solid copper and completely reliable.

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