When you pick up a cell phone and make a call or connect to the internet, it seems to just magically connect. Your device seems to just automatically put you in touch with the things that you need, sending and receiving information “magically” through the air. Few people spend the time to look into the process that actually makes those connections happen, and fewer still understand the business behind the technology. We all complain about high cell phone bills and the lack of reception we will find in certain areas. We get irritated if the calls are not perfectly clear, or if it takes too long to download a picture. The technology that makes all these processes happen is truly amazing, and is continually improving to offer consumers even more than they currently have.
To simplify the way it works, when you use your phone to send or receive information, that data is transferred wirelessly to the nearest cell tower that can be connected to. It is the job of your network to attempt to create as close to full coverage of an area as possible. Carriers provide a network of towers with the intent that they will cover an area completely, no matter where in it your device is located. Over the years, these coverage areas have grown to include nearly the entire populated area of the US. Your phone signal transfers the information that you want to the tower where it is received by the RRHs or “remote radio head.” This is essentially a receiver that is positioned at the top of the tower so as to provide the most unobstructed wireless path to your device. The data travels from the RRH to the equipment in the BSU or “base station unit” at the tower bottom. The RRH and BSU are connected through a system of cables and data transfer lines that enable large amounts of information to move almost instantaneously between them, then back through the network to the other device or service you are connecting to. This system proves to be the most effective way to transfer data between wireless devices, but also creates issues due to a natural disaster threats. Because of the way the towers need to be built and the locations of some of them, they are natural attractants for lightning. Lightning strikes cell towers often, because they are often the tallest structure in an area. Many times these strikes witll damage the equipment and RRHs at the top, but compound the losses by allowing the power surge that follows a strike to move to the other equipment in the BSU. The electricity travels along the connection cables very effectively, overwhelming the equipment and damaging it, if not destroying it completely. For this reason, the nearly unavoidable lightning strike causes damage at the strike point and also can travel to equipment farther away, even to other cell towers. This increases the costs of service due to the need to continually repair equipment. One of the improvements to cellular networks that carriers have implemented are the use of industrial, mission-critical surge protection devices which can effectively protect the equipment from the lightning surge that results from a strike. As surge protection devices grow more technologically advanced, more cost savings can happen for the carrier, which ultimately allows them to put more R&D into the network and hopefully reduce cellular bills.