What We’ve Learned About Outdoor Wireless Antenna Installation

What I've learned about outdoor bridging antennas and power.

We've been installing a lot of wireless antennas lately and with that comes a lot of learning, research, troubleshooting, and more learning.  

Tying an antenna to a tower and attached a Cat5e network cable is childs play (except for climbing the tower of course.  That should be highly discourage for children)  Ubiquiti in particular comes with kits that provide all the parts to do just this.   The problem comes with the excess energy that forms in the air (particularily with storms but also wind, dust, moisture blowing past the antenna and building up static) and is attracted and gathered by the antenna.  Using standard Cat5e cable will cause this extra energy through networking equipment and will damage and destroy equipment on your network.   When, where and how often this happens is impossible to determine

How to properly install your antennas properly and protect your network.

There is a lot of additional equipment that should be installed from the networking side.  In addition an Electrician would probably recommend other power based equipment to handle lightening strikes and high energy disruptions.  Lightening events contain too much energy for network equipment to handly regardless of the equipment used or design.  Lightening events are more likely to effect the power systems that the networking equipment relies on and damage the equipment, not from the networking cables but from the standard 120 power.  On a couple of our sites, we've had to deal with these and spent hours speaking with wireless engineers, in-field techs, manufacturers and online laymen with opinions of their own.  This is what we've found.

Grounding and the Antenna Networking Equipment

Grounding is essential.   Absolutely everything needs to be fully grounded to a strong and reliable earth ground and the more grounding the better.  (Its actually not the ground but a the difference in electrical charge between all the equipment.  Ensuring everything is tied together with a common shield and common earth ground is just the simplist and easiest to implement consistenly)

The ground itself is a grounding rod that must be driven deep into the earth and well below the frost line.  The soil it is driven into is important too as rocky soil isn't going to be as conductive as other soils.

In some online instructions its recommended to place a grounding ring several feet out from the antenna with multiple deep anchors  around the ring.   This may be for Ham radios or very high towers as equipment manufacturers and the experienced technicians I spoke to never recommended that this was necessary.

Use the Proper Network Cable

Proper Cat5e cable is very important.  In fact its the most important.  Starting with the sheathing or outside covering.  The sheathing doesn't have much to do with the ground but is designed for outside weather and the material protects against breakdown in UV light from sunshine.   Normal Cat5e will break down and fall apart over a couple seasons.  Particularly important for grounding is a rf shield and a dedicated drain conductor.  We always recommend Ubiquiti ToughCable as its designed specifically for this application.  The ToughCable also has available ToughCable connectors which include a drain conductor on the outside of the connector.

The drain conductor  (The most important part)  is designed to also make connection to both the ground on the antenna and the ground on the PoE injector that powers the antenna.  The Ubiquiti PoE injector has its Cat5e casing drain conductor tied directly to the third grounding prong of the standard 120v plug that connects to the earth ground of the power system of any home or commercial building in north america.   Be sure to use the appropriate Cat5e cable and connectors so you equipment is protected.  If you do not, the extra energy will build up and transmit through the data conductors of standard Cat5e cable, destroying your expensive network equipment.

Use the Ubiquiti Ethernet Surge Protector.

The Ubiquiti Ethernet Surge Protector is an in-expensive device that is designed to be replaced.  Have extras on hand.   It electrically ties down the voltage on both sides of your network and is designed to fail if too much energy cannot be drained.  It also has its own grounding mount where a dedicated earth ground can / should / must be attached.

Your Antenna Tower

Your main antenna will most likely be mounted on a tower of some sort.  Often this is a grain tower in rural installation but can also be a self standing dedicated tower for radios.   Make sure it is properly grounded with its own earth ground.  If the tower is burried deep in the earth well below the frost line then the tower itself is an adequate ground (for itself).   The Do-it-yourself Golden Nugget towers we sell can be 20  to well over 40 feet tall and are mounted on the surface without digging, burying or concrete required.  These definitely require a dedicated earth ground.   The ground must be very well attached.  The experts recommend a particular type of bonding to bound your earth ground conductor directly to the tower to ensure reliable connection that ensures conductivity of lightening and other energy.  They state that a pressure based clamp is inadequate.  Other installers use standard grounding clamps available from your local electrical supplier.  IMHO, these are adequate and easy to find and install.   If you need a radio tower, we do sell them on our web store at http://www.BuyPhonesOnline.ca

The Ubiquiti ToughSwitch Pro.

The Ubiquiti ToughSwitch doesn't have much to do with grounding other than it must be properly and fully grounded just like the PoE injector.  If you decide to use the ToughSwitch, then the PoE injector is not required.  The ToughSwitch provides additional management and monitoring of the antenna that is helpful.  For this reason we recommend that its installed.

A Uninterupted Pure Sine Wave Power Supply.

With all radio equipment, clean stable power is important.  We recommend UPS from CyberPower because they have good software at a reasonable price.  We also recommend 1500VA UPSs.  1500VA is the maximum size available without going to a special 20A power plug.  The 20A power plug requires you to bring in an electrician to put in a special circuit and power plug for the UPS.   The "Pure Sine Wave" is offered by most UPS manufacturers and relates to how the UPS generates power.  Anything radio based should use pure sine wave.

When there are brown outs, black outs or just unstable power, your network infrastructure needs to continue to operate properly.  Drops in voltage can place computer, network equipment and other electronics in non-working states requiring them to be manually rebooted.  Using a UPS ensures the voltage remains stable and makes your equipment more stable.

A Proper Commercial Grade Router / Firewall

Whether your wireless infrastructure brings the public internet into your site or bridges two private networks together, a strong network router is important.  This will allow you to control broadcast traffic, perform traffic shaping, implement a wide range of security and perform additional monitoring.   We recommend PFSense firewalls and in particular the PFSense SG-2440.  PFSense is open source and very reliable.  This means it comes in at a lower than average pricepoint and has decent community supported tools that make life easier in our support roles.

The equipment that we have mentioned here is all available on our online store at http://www.BuyPhonesOnline.ca   If you would rather leave the job of setting up your network to professionals please reach us directly at support@helia.ca or (403) 668-7895

Published by

Dar Zuch

Find me on Linkedin at: https://ca.linkedin.com/in/darzuch