Wireless communication is now firmly entrenched in our personal and professional lives, with millions of people and billions of devices connected to a radio tower every day. To meet soaring demand, telecommunications companies are making massive investments in communications hardware and software. Global investment in wireless infrastructure totaled $152 billion in 2021, and is forecast to hit $387 billion in 2031, according to Allied Market Research.

Those investments feature the latest high-bandwidth technology, which is more compact and integrates multiple pieces of previously used site equipment into a single unit with broader capabilities and greater processing capacity, making the equipment more vulnerable to lightning strikes and other surge events.

Those deploying radios on towers, are therefore, paying more attention to surge protection devices (SPDs), an often overlooked but vital element to safeguard their infrastructure and ensure uninterrupted service.

What to Look for in SPDs

Surges compromise communications equipment in multiple ways. A nearby lightning event, for example, can induce transients onto signal and power transmission lines, or energize the earth around the equipment. (Image: Infinite Electronics)

Surges compromise communications equipment in multiple ways. A nearby lightning event, for example, can induce transients onto signal and power transmission lines, or energize the earth around the equipment. A direct strike to on-site equipment is another common occurrence.

A simple, effective SPD ensures continued service, minimizing costly site repairs and lost revenue. If the SPD is not engineered to the correct specifications using appropriate technology, it may initially protect network devices — but a lower quality SPD or one not configured optimally may compromise the integrity of data signals, causing intermittent communication issues.

An expertly engineered SPD prevents equipment from being destroyed and prevents signal degradation in the event of transients or surges. To provide consistent connectivity and protection from multiple surge events, a properly installed SPD will ensure:

  • Data signal integrity (quality)

  • Data throughput (speed)

  • Equipment connectivity (services)

Surge protection devices must be installed on both ends of DC power and Ethernet cables going up a tower to a radio. (Image: Infinite Electronics)

Tips on Choosing SPDs

In our work with businesses around the world, we find that customers are looking more closely at SPDs to maintain service excellence, but also to protect their valuable, costly equipment from the growing number of extreme weather events. Telecommunications engineers are searching for robust, reliable solutions — and looking at how this relatively inexpensive but critical piece of equipment can protect their communications networks.

Below are recommendations from our surge protection experts based on working with engineers and operators for the past five decades on what to consider when purchasing SPDs.

1. The technical requirements of your equipment

Radio equipment manufacturers are authorities in communications technology, but many are not staffed with professionals who understand the technical requirements needed for appropriate surge protection for your equipment and optimal installation methods. Make sure you’re working with a team that has the technical and field experience to design, configure, and test SPDs to meet the unique requirements of your network.

2. The SPD’s reliability over time (and after multiple strikes)

During my time in the field, I’ve noticed it is a common misconception that a radio’s (or other active equipment’s) integrated surge protection can meet the high standards of a standalone SPD. Only superior-quality SPDs can prevent equipment failure even after multiple surge events. A radio may still function after one minor, single surge event, but over time and multiple events, the equipment will degrade and, ultimately, service will be interrupted. Only install SPDs that are engineered to provide high data throughput and truly robust surge protection. Selecting the right SPD technology for each application in your network is essential to ensure reliable, long-term performance.

3. The return on investment with high-quality SPDs

SPDs can help improve the return on investment of telecom capital expenditures by preventing loss of functionality (and the cost of replacing equipment) and unnecessary service expenses. Damaged radios can be replaced, but it comes at a cost:

  • revenue loss due to service interruption

  • damaged company reputation due to impaired service to customers

  • additional costs to service and/or repair sites

  • unplanned expenses to replace non-functioning equipment.

Best Practices for Installing SPDs

No technology can hold back mother nature and lightning, but when speaking with customers I always suggest they take simple steps to mitigate the potential for damage and downtime caused by a strike. Based on my experience in the field, here are six best practices to get the most from your equipment:

  • Verify correct installation. SPDs must be installed on both ends of DC power and Ethernet cables going up a tower to a radio. Surge energy on a cable will travel in both directions to find a path to the ground, where it could damage unprotected equipment on the line. Installing SPDs at both ends of a cable mitigates that risk.

  • Properly apply DC power SPDs. DC surge protection on both (+) to ground and (−) to ground is crucial. Line-to-line protection adds another level of safety for grounded DC systems.

  • Ensure correct AC power protection. The AC power feed is overlooked as a source of network failure due to surge events. Proper protection of the communication site’s main AC power source is highly recommended.

  • Confirm ground connection. To divert surge away from a radio, an SPD requires a ground connection. Inadequate grounding is the number one cause of radio failure — even with surge protection installed.

  • SPDs must sacrifice themselves. SPDs should sacrifice themselves under extreme surge events to protect communication equipment. When SPD components like MOVs fail violently, they can damage everything around them. Standalone SPDs are designed to fail safely in their enclosure and prevent damage to surrounding equipment.

  • Repetitive surge capabilities are a must. Specific applications require SPDs designed to withstand repetitive surges without degrading. Look for SPDs with silicon avalanche suppression diode (SASD) circuits, which do not degrade or cause thermal runaway conditions. SASD circuits also have one of the lowest VPLs, which provides the highest level of protection for telecommunication equipment.

The digital transformation reshaping our world has made it easier to communicate with each other, but it has also made it costlier for companies to protect and maintain the equipment that makes that happen. By following these sourcing tips and best practices, site executives and network engineers can have the confidence their networks are properly safeguarded and providing quality services their customers have come to expect and rely on.

This article was written by Jason Koshy, VP, Global Sales, Infinite Electronics (Irvine, CA). For more information, visit here .