NEMA and IEC are the two most common standards for power cords used in North America. NEMA connectors are on the side of the power cord that plugs into an AC wall outlet. IEC connectors are the side that plugs into devices like computers or TVs. By and large, NEMA and IEC are compatible with each other. There are many similarities between NEMA and IEC standards, but they are not quite the same.
NEMA is an acronym for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. Established in 1926, NEMA is an American organization focused on creating, establishing, and promoting safety standards for electrical equipment. Power cords are one of many items that fall under their jurisdiction. Despite being an American organization, NEMA standards are also primarily used in Canada and Mexico as well as parts of Central and South America, nearby small island nations such as Cuba, and some larger countries across the sea like Japan.
NEMA connectors are labeled as two numbers separated by a dash. The first number indicates the voltage rating of the cable; “5” stands for 125 volts and “6” stands for 250 volts. The second number indicates the amperage of the plug. There will also be a letter after the numbers, either a “P” for plug or an “R” for receptacle. For example, a 5-15P connector will be a plug rated for 125 volts and 15 amps.
Cables are the backbone of most modern technology. From simple ethernet cables keeping office computers online to heavy-duty power cables running hospital equipment, cables are involved with every aspect of technology. Even wireless devices like cell phones and tablets can only work by connecting to other devices like modems and routers that use cables themselves.
With cables being so critical, it is important to think economically when making purchases. However, once prices get too low it should set off a red flag. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Where cables are concerned, that can mean counterfeit cables that do not meet industry standards. These cables are unsafe and can damage themselves, the equipment they are connected to, and people unfortunate enough to be handling them.
Identifying Counterfeit Cables
Simply put, a counterfeit cable is any cable that does not meet industry standards. This often means using subpar materials to make the cable. Many counterfeit cables also go the extra step to try to deceive customers with false certification marks.
There are a few common counterfeit cable scams to look out for. At the foremost is cables made using inferior materials. One of the most common is copper-clad aluminum (CCA). Most cables use pure copper lines, with the exception of some coax cables that use copper-clad steel. CCA is no longer considered an industry standard but it is not entirely obsolete. Sometimes it is passed off as a cheap solution for jobs it is not qualified for.
Another common scam is faking certification labels. Many cables are tested to standards set by federally acknowledged facilities
Product certifications are as important for cabling as for any other industry. No one wants to run the risk of winding up with sub-par products that do not work or, worse, cause damage to other devices (or people). With so many different certifications spread across just as many different industries, it can be hard to keep them straight. For cables, there are a few key certifications to keep an eye out for:
- Prop 65
Each of these certifications has different definitions covered below. Some or even all of them may not apply to an item depending on what kind of item is in question. For example, certifications for an ethernet cable will not be the same as ones for a patch panel. Other certifications will only apply in certain geographical areas, such as stipulations set in Europe versus ones in the North America. Keep in mind that just because a product does not list a specific certification does not make it “bad”.