Maintenance is the Problem: The Truth About RF Coaxial Weatherproofing
Back in 2015, when AT&T approved Gamma Cold Shrink, we got a lot of feedback about how easy our silicone cold shrink was/is to install. Installers love how easy it is. Naturally it was easy for us to think this was the primary reason AT&T had decided to start using Gamma Cold Shrink on their deployments. As we dug deeper however, it turned out that an easier install was just an added benefit and not the primary reason AT&T chose to go with Gamma Cold Shrink.
That raises the question: Why do carriers (like AT&T) love Gamma Cold Shrink? Maintenance. Or more specifically the lack of maintenance.
Why do carriers (like AT&T) love Gamma Cold Shrink?
Or more specifically the lack of maintenance.
When we developed silicone Cold Shrink we knew we had a winner on our hands. Not only was it easy to install but we knew it would withstand the harshest of weather. What we didn’t fully realize is the amount of money that carriers like AT&T were losing due to maintenance costs and how Gamma Cold Shrink would help improve those numbers.
According to a 2017 cost study, maintenance costs are approximately 49% of operational costs. For any company that’s a lot of money dedicated to maintenance. For large telecom carriers that’s easily billions of dollars.
For example, in 2019 T-Mobile spent approximately $39.27 billion in operating expenses. 49% of that number, the amount of money spent on maintenance, would be $19.24 billion dollars.
Maintenance costs are approximately 49% of operational costs.
Weatherproofing & Maintenance
With a better understanding of maintenance expenses in the telecom world it makes sense that AT&T was looking for ways to bring those costs down. We spoke to Tiger Teams, (the teams most often sent out by telecom companies to do maintenance on towers), who told us that bad weatherproofing is the single, largest maintenance issue for telecom carriers, making up for as much as 30% of maintenance issues.
Weather related issues can mean a lot of different things ranging from the unavoidable to the completely predictable. To be clear, there will always be some amount of maintenance due to weather related issues. For example, no form of weatherproofing will be able to prevent the damage caused by a tornado. Such type of weather is unavoidable and will always require maintenance. The bigger issue is actually the predictable weather: the seasonal weather that you can often anticipate and, with proper RF weatherproofing, withstand.
Too often connections on towers do not have adequate weatherproofing able to withstand what is often seasonal/predictable weather. RF Weatherproofing like Gamma Cold Shrink easily protects against the elements including wind, rain, and snow. Even so, there are times when installers, companies, etc. still opt for lesser forms of weatherproofing.
Why would anyone choose a lesser form of weatherproofing, (i.e. tape & butyl)? Well, in the case of installers, they may not always have much of a choice. Oftentimes tape & butyl is given to installers despite it not being their preferred choice of weatherproofing. Tape & Butyl is often forced upon installers from their superiors who like the price point. The problem is, in only about a year’s time, tape and butyl is going to rack up maintenance costs.
For example, tape & butyl is still regularly used for RF Weatherproofing but Tiger Teams have told us that they estimate tape & butyl will fail within about a year of installation. The adhesive on the tape starts to fail and unravel in the cold, leaving your connection exposed to the elements. Likewise, the butyl gets brittle and cracks in the cold making it susceptible to water ingress. In the summer months butyl often melts, allowing it to work it’s way into connections, resulting in VSWR issues. Long story short: put tape & butyl through 4 seasons of weather, (or even 2), and it’s highly likely to fail. For all these reasons it’s no surprise that time and time again we’ve had Tiger Teams tell us that they wish Gamma Cold Shrink had been installed from the start.
Installation vs. Maintenance Costs
The debate is this: should you spend less during installation and risk higher maintenance costs or spend more on weatherproofing during installation and save on long-term maintenance costs? Or, more simply: spend money on installation or spend money on maintenance?
Really the debate is between one-time costs, (installation), and ongoing costs, (maintenance). You could spend a little more one-time or you could spend repeatedly for the foreseeable future. When you put it into that context the answer seems pretty obvious: spend more during installation. This is the exactly the logic that AT&T used in choosing Gamma Cold Shrink.
You could spend a little more one-time or you could spend repeateadly for the foreseeable future.
Think of it this way: the typical telecom tower has, on average, about 35-70 cables, or 70-140 connections. To make the math easy let’s say it’s 100 connections. Imagine you have a new tower with 100 connections and you install tape & butyl on all of them. As covered above chances are very likely that the tape & butyl will be failing in about a year’s time. Now multiply that times 100 connections. That’s a lot of maintenance in a relatively short period of time. Even if you’re generous and say that only half or as low as a third of the tape & butyl needs replacement that still means you have to perform maintenance on half to a third of your connections in about one year’s time.
Contrast that with a tower using Gamma Cold Shrink, which is guaranteed to last the lifetime of the cable. We have not had one failure of Gamma Cold Shrink reported to us and it’s been on the market/in use by AT&T since 2015. Let that sink in: Gamma Cold Shrink has not had a single failure reported in its 5 years of existence. Imagine what that kind of performance would mean for your maintenance costs. It easily makes the installation cost worth it.
Having unreliable RF weatherproofing makes maintenance costs unpredictable and quite possibly exponential. You don’t know how much bad weatherproofing could potentially cost you. It’s easy to figure out how much installation will cost you. However, by choosing to spend a little more during installation you are choosing a more predictable cost over the much more unpredictable maintenance costs associated with bad weatherproofing.
How Do I Bring Down Maintenance Costs?
Want to save on maintenance costs? Choose the best RF weatherproofing you can from the outset. Choose weatherproofing that will hold up to the elements, keep water out, and that will last as long as possible. For help, check out our post, “How to Choose the RIght RF Weatherproofing.”
As mentioned earlier, weather will always result in some amount of maintenance but they key to bringing maintenance costs down is to make sure you’re choosing RF weatherproofing that works and that lasts. Add to this the exponentially faster installation time of Gamma Cold Shrink, (and similar products), and not only are you improving your maintenance costs, but your network is up and running faster as well.
Maintenance, or the lack thereof, should be the top consideration when choosing RF weatherproofing but that doesn’t mean it’s the only consideration. As mentioned at the beginning of the post, installers rave about how easy Gamma Cold Shrink is to install. This added benefit can result in exponentially faster install times that result in your network being up and running faster. If you’re an installer it means you move on to your next job more quickly. The time savings are so significant that we dedicated an entire article/post to the topic, (Check that out here).
There’s quite a bit to consider to ensure you’re choosing the right RF Weatherproofing, which, (again), is the reason we put together a post on the topic to help, “How to Choose the Right RF Weatherproofing.”
The Bottom Line
Too often the focus is on the cost of installation, when the focus should be on the cost of maintenance. Maintenance is where you will bleed out money. Choose the right RF weatherproofing from the outset and you’ll vastly improve your bottom line.
Choose the Right RF weatherproofing from the outset and you’ll vastly improve your bottom line.
Gamma Cold Shrink has proved immensely successful in reducing maintenance costs, hence the reason AT&T continues to use it 5 years after it was first introduced. Since that time we’ve added to our RF Weatherproofing line of products, asserting ourselves as the weatherproofing leader for the telecommunications industry. You can learn more about our RF Weatherproofing products on our RF Weatherproofing page where you can also request a free sample of one of our RF Weatherproofing products.
Get 3 for $15
Get 3 samples of Gamma RF Weatherproofing for only $15, inclduing shipping.