The telecommunications industry is highly specialized, and as a result needs both specialized equipment and connectivity structures in order to provide the services that are required. While the specialized equipment is susceptible to damage simply due to its electronic nature, this issue is amplified within the telecommunications industry due to the equipment being positioned in the field. For a simplified understanding of the dangers that are faced, we must consider the necessary components and setups that bring cell service to users. A coverage area is the amount of ground that is able to be serviced by a cell tower by having a signal be within range. A person holding a cell phone within this area of coverage will receive and transmit signals between their device and the tower. For a coverage area to be without dead areas, the amount of space that each tower can effectively cover must overlap between towers, creating a larger space that is without gaps. The signals to the tower that is within range must be able to be unobstructed in order to be clear and strong, essentially guaranteeing that the cell towers that are providing the service to the customers in that area are the tallest structures within that area, and are sometimes located in relatively remote areas as well. This makes the towers themselves a natural target for lightning strikes, which have the characteristic of taking the path of least resistance to earth. This means that lightning is mostly going to strike the tower if it is within the vicinity of it. While there are techniques and devices that attempt to draw the strike away from the tower itself so as to prevent direct strikes, it is nearly impossible to completely prevent a lightning strike to such a perfect target. For this reason, lightning rods and overhead shields will only prevent a portion of strikes to cellular towers.
The lightning striking the tower itself will produce damage at the strike point, however this is actually not the area of greatest concern and does not produce the most expensive damage. Far more repair expense is allocated to the damage that is produced as a result of the power surge which follows the strike, and travels through the structure from component to component via conductivity paths of least resistance. Generally a strike to the structure itself will be followed by a large surge of electricity that will overwhelm the RRH (remote radio head) unit. This is the suite of components that are positioned at the top of a cellular tower and are tasked with receiving and transmitting the signal to and from the user’s devices. The RRH involves a large amount of circuit driven technology which can only withstand and operate under a specific electrical load. Once that amount is breached, damage occurs to the internal components, rendering them inoperable until they are repaired or replaced. The RRH is connected to the BSU (base station unit) via FTTA (fiber to the antenna) and PTTA (power to the antenna) cables. These are the cables that allow for electricity and data to flow to the between the top and bottom of the cell tower. The BSU has a direct connection to the RRH through these lines, and if left unprotected will also be effected by the strike to the top of the unit even though it is located some distance from the strike point. This is achieved by the electrical surge flowing along the FTTA and PTTA in between the components, and will also include components further down the chain as well. Any component that is directly connected to another component via copper cables is able to be damaged by the power surge created by a lightning strike, even if they are located some distance away and are not in a parallel line. The surge travels through the cables themselves, which can create curves that would typically not be followed by electricity in its standard path. These weaknesses make the telecommunications industry especially susceptible to losses as a result of lightning strikes, and provides difficulties maintaining uptimes and coverage areas. If a tower and the components on it are damaged by a strike and surge and there are no overlaps presented by other nearby towers, customers receive no service until repairs are made. Telecom operators know that they can not afford to allow this to happen.
Prevention of the largest amount of damage possible is the most viable defense against lightning related losses within the telecom industry. Within the most utilized connectivity FTTA & PTTA architectures, use of Raycap’s Class 1 MOV surge protection technology and connectivity solutions is critical, and DC power is protected while fiber-optic cable is better distributed. Within an industry that is continually consolidating into a few key players all of whom are competing for the same customers, cost reduction and service improvement is the only real way to lure customers to your service. In order to reduce operating expenses, improved surge protection systems must be continually developed and worked into the architectures at appropriate locations. As competition for stronger networks with faster speeds grows, customers continually raise the bar with expectations. More expensive components are needed every day, and these components must not only be tasked with providing better connectivity and speeds, but also must be more robust and able to have longer life spans. This challenge is one that is faced by all telecom providers every day. Raycap is working hard to not only make the world’s finest surge protection for FTTA and PTTA architectures, but also to continue its R&D to develop the next generation of surge protection devices that will set the bar tomorrow.