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Type 43 Connectors

There has been an influx of poor quality Type 43 coaxial connectors into the UK in recent years, risking serious loss of revenue and substantially increased costs for Telcos. Telcos need to take a closer look at what connectors their subcontractors are supplying says leading distributor, Greenwoods Communications.

There are tens of millions of Type 43 connectors installed in telecoms networks throughout Europe and beyond. Unfortunately, when it comes to quality, not all Type 43 connectors, a vital component in 75ohm telecom coaxial cabling, are the same.

Rogue connectors could be putting the reputation of some Telcos at risk, not to mention their potential for causing substantial revenue losses.

Over the past four to five years there has been a steady growth in the sales of cheap foreign imports of telecoms connectors into the UK. The reasons for this are varied but include a more price-driven attitude of Telcos towards their installations. Sub-contractors are increasingly being left to specify connectors and often pick the cheapest available to maximise their profitability. Tests have shown the weaknesses in these products and demonstrated the points of failure.

PUTTING 21CN NETWORKS IN DANGER!

Failure of one of these connectors can have serious consequences. One faulty connector going offline could potentially cause, at a minimum, a loss of 30 voice calls or even a loss of service from a mobile base station controller (BSC). The penalty could lead to the contract between the telco and the content provider being revoked. These contracts can be worth millions of pounds, dwarfing the minor cost savings made in purchasing lower quality connectors.

The risks that these poor connectors can cause are likely to increase as 21st Century Networks (21CN) and Next Generation Networks (NGN) are built. 21CN networks tend to have far fewer interconnection points because processors do more of the switching. A connector failure has the potential to cause far wider disruption to service than in other networks.

While some telcos have redundancy built into the network that could cope with one failure, it’s difficult to predict where a fault could occur. For a company using poor quality connectors, there are more chances of recurring faults happening.

FALLING INTO THE FALSE ECONOMY TRAP

The basic reason for the successful penetration of the market by sub-standard connectors is simple – price. Gold prices have rocketed globally recently, particularly during the last year or so. The cost of the gold accounts for more than the cost of turning the part. So simply putting lower quality and a thinner layer of gold onto a connector allows some manufacturers to sell Type 43 connectors at a low price.

HARD TO SEE POOR QUALITY

Visually there may be little difference between a conforming approved connector and a substandard poor quality one. In fact, several poor quality connectors visually appear better than their approved counterparts because they use thin bright decorative grade gold coatings over the whole body of the connector.

It is difficult without specialist equipment and knowledge to detect poor quality connectors at the commissioning stage of a project, and therefore virtually impossible to prevent a fault before a fault actually occurs.

A further difficulty is that many connectors are described as ‘BT Type 43 Connectors’ implying that they meet BT specifications, when they simply do not. Some far eastern manufactured products do carry a warranty of sorts, but these could be very hard to follow up should a failure occur.

Some sub-standard connectors may be suitable in a few applications such as in temporary Broadcasting uses where they are mated only once and reliance is not essential. However, it is often the case that when building up racking, connectors can be disconnected and reconnected several times during manufacture and installation. Poor quality connectors are likely to suffer degradation in their connection quality during multiple mating, storing up catastrophic consequences for the future.

TESTS REVEAL THE PROBLEM

Tests by Greenwoods Communications and Interface Components have discovered four key manufacturing issues in substandard Type 43 connectors that can cause severe problems in any network:

POOR MACHINING - As parts are usually copied from an original part, tolerance or fit information is not available resulting in inconsistent machining of component parts. Insecure crimping of centre contacts is a common problem often due to incorrect materials being used, incorrect or no heat treatment, non concentric bores etc.

POOR QUALITY GOLD PLATING - BT specifications require a functional hard gold coating to meet its test program ensuring that a reliable electrical connection is made even after hundreds of mating cycles. Conversely tests carried out on the majority of imported connectors, using X-ray fluorescent and SEM, by the Twickenham Plating Group, has revealed that not only is the type of Gold deposit unsuitable but is almost non existent in its functional requirement. In most cases the gold thickness was found to be only 8% of what is required, which would wear after two or three mating cycles, again causing a high resistance connection.

SOLDER CONNECTORS MIS-SOLD AS CRIMP CONNECTORS - The material used in the manufacture of connectors designed for solder termination tends to be too hard for crimping. When crimped, the metal springs back slightly; leaving gaps around the connection that can corrode and cause joint failure and high resistance connection. Although the crimps on these connectors feel secure, tests have revealed up to ten times higher resistance than connectors meeting BT specifications.

INADEQUATE INSULATING COLLARS - In ultra high-density racking, adjacent connectors should be segregated by an insulating collar on the connector or link. Connectors supplied without an adequate means of insulation can cause cross-talk and poor quality signalling.

Currently there are three companies that are BT approved to manufacture Type 43 connectors, Interface Components being the only company to be UK owned and to manufacture in the UK using approved BT suppliers.

Fortunately, the solution is simple. Telcos everywhere need to ensure that they and their subcontractors’ sourcing processes for Type 43 connectors are governed not just by price, but by adherence to BT quality specifications too. Before using a source make sure that adequate testing is carried out to qualify that it complies. You cannot always tell by just looking!

More responsible manufacturers, such as Greenwoods Communications’ partner Interface Components, have developed with its plating supplier, Twickenham Plating Group, advanced plating technology that reduce the amount of gold used, yet still maintain connector quality to gain BT approval. These connectors are processed using sophisticated plating equipment that selectively plates only the mating surfaces, instead of the entire component as in conventional plating. This saves considerable gold and enables competitive pricing of the connector.

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