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Wireless Towers Maintaining Security Safety and Availability


While the prices of many commodities have seen recent downturns in the global economy, the price of copper has held its own. The trading of stolen scrap copper for cash remains one of the ways criminals can make a quick dollar. The digital era has given thieves additional resources for stolen copper and other goods, including the wireless base station. Copper and devices like radios have become frequent targets of theft, especially at remote tower sites that lack significant security measures. The problem is a pervasive one–the U.S. Department of Energy states that metal theft "costs U.S. businesses around $1 billion per year."

Site owners have more to worry about than theft alone. Weather events, such as lightning strikes attracted to improperly grounded cell towers, can have catastrophic consequences, amounting to much higher net costs than the costs related to stolen material. Damage during the careless theft of copper and devices can also lead to glitches and power interruptions in remaining equipment. Downtime at a wireless site can produce a ripple effect of negative consequences: loss of productivity, significant monetary setbacks for tower owners and carriers, and a potentially crippling lack of network availability for end users. Fortunately, there are solutions available to reduce risks of damage and downtime at wireless base stations.

On-Site Security Measures

Improving security at a wireless tower site can be as simple as installing specialty ground bars and plates. This drill-resistant hardware is often made of tinned copper and stamped with a blatant security feature: the words "STOLEN, DO NOT RECYCLE." Additionally, ground bar lock boxes can be installed in areas that are most targeted. Deterrents and hardware, however, are only the first step in putting a stop to theft.

Site Surveillance

Modern video monitoring systems can give security personnel remote access to live feeds at tower sites, and perimeter geo-fences (or "virtual trip wire") will detect intruders long before an on-site employee could see the intruder approaching, leaving ample time to contact law enforcement. No matter how advanced security systems get, however, none are fail proof. Additionally, backhauling live video feeds from security cameras at a massive base station could prove to be a monumental and costly task.

It is important to keep in mind that while securing large LMR base stations is often necessary, LTE cellular architectures are comprised of many more, smaller tower sites. One way to avoid unnecessary back-hauling of idle security camera footage at each of these sites is to install movement sensors that will activate a live video feed only when unexpected movement is detected on the station property. While LTE tower sites provide greater agility for backhauling video feed across a broadband network than narrowband LMR sites, this solution cuts down on excessive equipment and network usage.

The Last Step–Remote Monitoring

The collection and management of the latest site data back to operation centers can be critical to service providers. This includes knowing right away when there's a problem. Site grounding systems can be monitored using a Ground Test Remote Monitoring (GTRM) solution, which identifies sensing-circuit interruption and sends an alert. Use of other monitoring equipment installed on all key equipment–such as fuel tanks, generators and batteries throughout the site–will not only allow tracking of day-to-day system performance, but will also make the results of a potential theft immediately visible from a diagnostic perspective, allowing maintenance teams to respond quickly and keep downtime to a minimum.

While it's clear that security at wireless tower sites is essential, deciding which security measures to install can be a daunting trek through a complex series of pros and cons. TESSCO is uniquely situated to advise carriers and tower owners about the features and benefits of a wide variety of security devices for the critical safekeeping of tower hardware. From product offerings to design support, TESSCO will work one-on-one to determine the right solution for maximizing signal availability, maintaining valuable uptime and mitigating backhaul requirements from the site to security personnel.