Damage is Invisible to the Eye

Damage is Invisible to the Eye

A client reported to me that their internet connection seemed to work okay for email and web surfing, but not so for their television when they tried to stream Netflix. Videos constantly stopped and started while trying to play. We call that buffering. After troubleshooting all of the Local Area Network (LAN) hardware, modem, routers, etc., I was confident I had ruled out all the possibilities except for substandard wiring.

A professional wiring certification tester was called in. Certification is a very expensive testing process that is almost never done in residential settings because of its high cost. Sophisticated instruments costing tens of thousands of dollars are used to test the condition of the wires. Sure enough, the tests proved the Ethernet cabling in the walls was damaged because it had been crimped and over-stressed during installation.

An electrician was called in to replace all the wiring, but after that was done the problems with streaming video online still persisted. The wiring certification tester was called back to run all of those expensive tests again, and the results showed that while installing the new Ethernet cables, the electrician had damaged the new cable too, so we were right back where we started. The electrician defended his work saying the conduits were too small and the only way to get the cables in was to pull on the wire really hard. So the only thing to do now is to chip open all the walls to install the correct conduits or to surface-mount the wiring in what would be a rather unsightly installation.

What I just described is the nightmare scenario, and it is not likely to ever happen that way. No rational client is going to pay the very high price to have a professional wiring certification tester check the wiring because that homeowner could probably rewire their entire house for less money than the test would cost. And the certification test would probably only show that the wiring is substandard and needs to be replaced anyhow.

When I tell clients that their wiring can be a source of internet connectivity issues, they never want to believe it, perhaps because it is an invisible problem. What most clients do is to complain to their Internet Service Provider (ISP) to get a new modem. When that fails to fix the problem, they might buy a new router or even a new Smart TV, but they still have the problem of not being able to stream video. They might try paying their ISP for faster service, hoping that will help, but it never does. Some people try changing ISPs, switching from the phone company to the cable company, but that does not fix the wiring.

Electricians do not want to believe that pulling too hard on CAT5/6 Ethernet cable can irreparably damage the cable such that it still works okay for low-demand connections such as email or web browsing, but the same wire can no longer handle high-demand such as streaming video. Pulling too hard on Ethernet cable during installation does damage it, and that damage is invisible to the eye.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel de Allende since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8@SMAguru.com.