How to Choose the Right Weatherproofing for Coaxial Cables & Connectors
The point of weatherproofing for coaxial cables and connections is to keep your connections operating and to reduce maintenance. So, how do you know if you are choosing the right weatherproofing?
When choosing RF Weatherproofing there is no one size fits all solution. Not only do different connections literally require different sized weatherproofing, but some weatherproofing products are simply better suited for different scenarios than others.
Choosing the rigtht weatherproofing can massively reduce your maintenance costs. It means you’re not swapping out equipment nearly as often and you’re not paying contractors to do as much maintenance work. With that in mind, it’s critical to choose the right weatherproofing from the get-go.
To help make sure you choose the right weatherproofingfor coaxial cables & connectors, we’ve put a list of 9 things you should think about before you buy.
1. Does the Weatherproofing Create a Watertight Seal/Enclosure?
First and foremost, your RF Weatherproofing needs to enclose the connection to the point of creating a watertight seal. Unfortunately, too many weatherproofing options provide a seal, but not a watertight seal.
For example, we’ve talked to a number of installers/contractors who have told us they have used the wrong type of cold shrink tubing for weatherproofing connections. EPDM cold shrink is great in many applications, but EPDM cold shrink is, almost always, unable to shrink down small enough to protect coaxial connections. Gamma Silicone Cold Shrink, on the other hand, is able to shrink down to much smaller sizes providing watertight protection for coaxial connections, (as shown below).
This doesn’t mean that silicone cold shrink is your only option, but there is little doubt that silicone cold shrink is the best at providing a consistent, watertight seal over coaxial cables and connections. It’s crucial that whatever form of weatherproofing you choose, that it is able to provide that watertight seal. It’s for that very reason that we put together an article highlighting the differences between EPDM and Silicone Cold Shrink Tubing. You can find that article here.
Choose the Right Sized Weatherproofing for a Watertight Seal
It is also possible to choose the right type of cold shrink but choose the wrong size. Selecting the wrong size can easily put you in a position where you don’t get the watertight seal you’re looking for. You have to make sure that, with whatever coax weatherproofing you choose, it will create the watertight seal on both the connector and the cable. Below, you can see different sizes of cold shrink that we have tested on different connector/cable combinations.
Tested to IP68 Standards (or Better)
Each of the cold shrink models listed above have met the IP68 standard, meaning that water does not make it into the connector/cable combination with cold shrink installed over it, after having been submerged at least 1 meter deep in water for at least 30 minutes. Each of the cold shrink models in the chart above have passed these tests numerous times with the cables/connectors listed beside them. We have begun testing some models and had them pass at IP69 levels, meaning they can also withstand pressure washing.
Of course, you don’t have to choose cold shrink tubing, but you do need to make sure you choose weatherproofing that is correctly sized to your specific cable/connector combination and can guarantee a watertight seal over that connection. The IP rating system is an excellent way to measure that, (you can learn more about the IP rating system here).
Whatever weatherproofiing solution you are researching, look to see if there are IP ratings on your specific coaxial cable/connection combination. We do our best to make it clear which coaxial cable/connector combinations that our Cold Shrink, Slide Locks, and RF Weatherproof Boots will provide IP68, watertight protection for. Make sure that you have this information clear before you purchase.
2. How Well Does the Weatherproofing Withstand Temperature?
Once you’ve chosen weatherproofing that you know will make your coax connection watertight, you next need to determine how well it will handle both hot and cold temperatures. Tape and Butyl is a great example as to why you want to give this some real thought.
Tape & Butyl is a commonly used weatherproofing technique where tape, (often electrical tape or similar), is wrapped around the connection, followed by a layer of a clay-like material called butyl, and lastly another layer of tape. Tape & Butyl might give you a watertight solution but it is all but guaranteed to be a temporary one. The primary reason for that being that Tape & Butyl does not hold up well to either hot or cold temperatures.
In colder temperatures butyl will become brittle and start to crack. In the heat, butyl can become runny and actually work its way into the connection, (butyl is known to be a common culprit of VSWR issues). The adhesive on the tape also has problems in both lower and warmer temperatures, often resulting in the tape unraveling. With all these issues it’s uncommon for tape & butyl to get through all four seasons and last even a full year before being problematic.
It’s for all of these temperature related issues that we make the vast majority of our weatherproofing products from silicone, which is incredibly resistant to temperatures on both the hot and cold sides of the spectrum. In the chart below you can see how Silicone out performs EPDM in terms of temperature resistance, and EPDM in turn is going to easily out perform Tape & Butyl.
Specifications will sometimes show that Butyl has a decent temperature range but real world application does not reflect this. One reason for this is because Butyl does not resist UV very well, which is why it is typically paired with electrical tape, (which is UV resistant). We dive into UV resistance more in the next section.
Just remember that it’s important to plan on your RF weatherproofing going through a variety of seasons. Even in more temperate climates, like southern California, (where Gamma HQ is located), there will always be nights where the temperatures dip down and summer days where it gets very hot. It can be easy to focus on how weatherproofing will perform in the cold of winter or the heat of summer, but more importantly: can it do both?
3. How well does it withstand elements other than water?
9 times out of 10 water is the most pressing concern when it comes to RF Weatherproofing, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only weather concern. Dust, UV, ozone, and fungus are among concerns that should be considered as they can hurt the longevity of your weatherproofing product.
Once again we’re going to, (briefly), talk about the IP rating system. IP actually stands for “Ingress Protection.” Ingress is a fancy way of saying “entering,” so the IP rating system is actually measuring how well a product withstands solids and liquids from entering the product. The first digit following IP tells you how well something stands up to solid particle ingress, (like dust), and the second digit is for liquids. Solids are rated on a scale of o to 6, while liquids can go from 0 to 9. For example, below we break down exactly what IP68 means.
The item is completely sealed off from dust, there is no ingress of dust at all.
Protected against water immersion to a greater depth, (more than 1 meter, often 2 meters).
6 is the highest rating for solid particles and this means that, when installed correctly, no dust should be able to get into the product. It’s probably obvious but you want less points of entry, of any kind, on your weatherproofing. So, yet again, the IP rating system is important in measuring how well your chosen weatherprooing product will work.
Ingress Isn’t the Only Problem
Ingress is not the only problem to worry about however. UV is another common problem as weatherproofing is going to be exposed to sunlight for long periods of time. We talked about Tape & Butyl in the previous section and it’s worth mentioning here again. Butyl’s lack of UV resistance is a major reason it becomes problematic. Butyl can become brittle and can crack in thanks to its lack of UV resistance. Combine that with hot or cold temperatures and you have a weatherproofing problem.
Coaxial cable and connector weatherproofing, (or RF weatherproofing for short), often undergoes UV testing that is able to simulate how long a product is able to endure UV before breaking down. Typically if it’s made of Silicone or EPDM it will be just fine out in the sun, but you want to know before you buy.
The same is true for Ozone issues. Ozone can often cause cracking with different types of elastomers/rubber, (looking at you again butyl). Fungus is another issue that can pop up, which only makes sense considering the prolonged exposure weatherproofing products have to rain and weather in general. Yet again, silicone products like our Cold Shrink and RF Weatherproof Boots solve these issues.
We could have easily labeled this section “Silicone Weatherproofing is Awesome” but we resisted. What’s most important is choosing a product that not only resists water. Make sure you’re thinking about dust, UV, Ozone, and Fungus as well. We have even salt water testsed some of our products to ensure they work in certain environments, (i.e. coastlines). If you want your weatherproofing to truly work and last, choose something that can handle all these issues.
4. Does the Weatherproofing rely on Adhesive?
In general it’s a good idea to avoid RF Weatherproofing products that rely on adhesives/glue to work. Similar to point 2 about temperature, adhesives don’t hold up in colder or warmer weather and often lose their adhesive properties. For example, adhesive on tape stops adhering/working in colder weather which causes the tape to unrvavel, completely defeating the purpose of the tape.
The other reason however, is when you need to remove the weatherproofing. Adhesive makes it very difficult to remove weatherproofing and has often led to cables being cut and damaged in the process. If you are able to remove the adhesive based weatherproofing, it can be difficult to install a replacement over it. The adhesive residue could put you at risk of not getting a watertight seal with whatever weatherproofing you are replacing it with.
This is why all of Gamma’s RF Weatherproofing products have no adhesive, including our Magic Tape, (self-amalgamating tape). Make sure you are considering the long-term effects of adhesive based weatherproofing when choosing a solution.
5. How Much Space Does the Weatherproofing Need to Install?
RF Weatherproofing should be designed with spacing/accessibility very much in mind. As can be seen in the photo of the Remote Radio Unit, (click on the photo to enlarge), there is less than an inch between the two connections and that’s before a cable/connector is installed. Once you add cables and weatherproofing, space is incredibly limited.
If you’re using tape & butyl, for example, this would be a nightmare. Tape & Butyl are not the only culprits here however. Some 2 piece boots out there become increasingly difficult to install in these limited spaces. There are also products out there, similar to our Slide Locks, that are so bulky that fitting them side by side on connections is nearly impossible.
You don’t want to buy coaxial cable and/or connector weatherproofing that you don’t have space to install, or that adds time to your installation because it’s difficult to work with in limited space. The amount of space being utilized by RF Weatherproofing may seem like an afterthought, but you’ll be grateful if you don’t treat it that way.
6. How Easy is the Weatherproofing To Install?
How easy your RF Weatherproofing is to install could make a world of difference in terms of labor/man hours spent on a tower. We have an entire article dedicated to this very topic as you can literally save days of work by choosing RF weatherproofing that is easier and faster to install.
We go to great lengths to make RF Weatherproofing products that literally install in seconds. In the video above, you can see that our top 3 weatherproofing products all install, back to back, in less than 30 seconds. Most installers you speak to will tell you that tape & butyl installs in about 5-10 minutes. Now imagine the time difference when you have 100 connections to weatherproof.
Easily installed RF Weatherproofing only yields positive results. RF Weatherproofing that is fast and easy to install results in contractors moving onto other projects more quickly. It means networks are up and running faster. It also means maintenance is performed more quickly.
Choosing RF Weatherproofing that installs quickly should not be undervalued.
7. Quality Control
Towers often have dozens upon dozens of connections and you want easily repeatable results. The success of how well some forms of weatherproofing work can be highly dependent on the person installing it. For example, any time tape is being utilized, how well it works is heavliy reliant on how well the contractor installs it.
If you are in a position where you will be hiring numerous contractors/installers than you are going to find yourself hiring people of different experience levels and abilities. This was one of the major reasons AT&T chose to go with our Silicone Cold Shrink, as it can be installed at a consistent quality level by nearly any contractor. You want to choose coaxial cable and/or connector weatherproofing that is about as fool-proof as possible.
It doesn’t matter if you have 1 contractor or 100, you likely have connections in the double digits at a single tower/location. You want every single connection to be protected from the weather at a high and consistent quality and you should choose weatherproofing that will deliver those results.
8. Do you need to re-access the connection?
We love cold shrink, but we also understand that it is not suited to all RF weatherproofing situations. The most common reason that our customers look at other solutions is when they need easy re-accessibility to a connection.
It’s for this very reason that we also offer our Slide Locks and RF Weatherproof Boots. Cold Shrink can be removed from a connection, and because it does not have any adhesive, it can be removed cleanly and easily, (in fact, we designed a tool for it).
Gamma Slide Locks and Weatherproof Boots are great examples of RF Weatherproofing that make revisiting/maintaining the connection easy. Slide Locks close over the connection like a clam shell and have a sliding mechanism that locks, (or unlocks), into place. Our RF Weatherproof Boots are installed on the cable and simply slide up and over the connection, or off the connection and down the cable as needed. Both solutions are IP68 rated.
Both of the above solutions can be left in place permanently, but they allow installers to re-access the connection with ease. More and more we’re finding that carriers, installers, etc. like having that option available to them, and why wouldn’t they? It’s not always necessary, or in some cases the best option, but it’s highly beneficial if/when its needed.
This is where it really matters, again, to make sure you have a solution that perfectly matches your cable/connector combination. You don’t want to sacrifice a connection being watertight because you also wanted it be re-accessible. You can have both, you just need to make sure it’s been tested on your specific cable/connection combo and that it meets IP68 standards.
We’ve learned that companies like AT&T love the “set it and forget it” mentality that comes with our silicone cold shrink. However, AT&T has approved and still utilizes our Slide Locks in addition to our cold shrink. Not every site is going to be the same. What really matters is that you choose the weatherproofing that makes your maintenance as minimal as possible down the road.
9. How long does it last?
Obviously the point of RF Weatherproofing is for it to withstand the elements, keep water from getting in, etc, but it doesn’t help you much if the weatherproofing doesn’t last. For a number of reasons, (many of which are listed above), some weatherproofing products are somply superior and are going to outlast others.
That’s why this final point about longevity in so many ways is a culmination of many of the other points. Is the weatherproofing watertight? Will it withstand high and low temperatures? Does it keep out dust? Is it UV resistant? What about Ozone and fungus? Does it rely on adhesive? All of these issues contribute the longevity and success of the weatherproofing.
How long an RF Weatherproofing product lasts is a difficult question to quantify but it is one of the most important questions to try and get an answer to. The best way to know is to ask the manufacturer about the warranty/guarantees for the weatherproofing product. For example, we guarantee Gamma Cold Shrink, Slide Locks, and Weatherproof Boots to last the lifetime of the cable.
The longer the weatherproofing lasts, the less maintenance you have to attend to, and that is good news for your bottom line.
There is no “one size fits all solution” when it comes to weatherproofing for coaxial cables and connections. By considering the 9 points above however, it should help clarify your decision on weatherproofing and help lead you to the best result.
Of course, we consider the Gamma RF Weatherproofing product line to offer the best coaxial cable and connection weatherproofing solutions available to the telecommunications, WISP, and fixed wireless markets in general, and we want to prove it to you. Until the end of 2021 we are offering customers 3 free samples of our RF weatherproofing products. Go here to get your free samples, or click on the link below.
Get 3 for $25
Get 3 samples of Gamma RF Weatherproofing for only $25, inclduing shipping.