No doubt every enterprise is careful to arm its computers with surge protection devices, as nothing can wreak havoc on the operations of a business like damaged hard drives and fried servers. Do telephone systems, so integral to commercial activity, receive the same level of attention? Perhaps not, but they certainly should. A telephone system failure caused by a power surge or lightning strike can inflict a damaging blow to a business. And it can be an expensive ordeal, both in terms of real, out-of-pocket costs to repair or replace a system and in terms of the opportunity costs of missed calls during downtime. These are costs that can be easily avoided by having the right surge protectors on the job.
Surge protectors are designed to insulate equipment from voltage spikes, and they do so by diverting and curtailing the voltage supplied to electrical devices. A surge constitutes a level of voltage beyond a safe threshold, which in a typical business setting would be 120 volts. When voltage exceeds that level, the surge protector diverts the stream of current to a ground, thus preventing damage to equipment like telephone systems.
While lightning strikes can be the cause of power surges, particularly during summer months, the more typical causes of surges are downed power lines, faulty wiring or the cycling on and off of high-powered electrical components like heavy duty compressors and motors, air-conditioning units and elevators. Though these more common causes don’t inflict nearly the jolt of a lightning strike, they can be strong enough to damage a telephone system.
A telephone system actually requires two levels of surge protection: one for the alternating current (AC) lines that power the system and one for the phone lines that are connected to a 66M block, as telephone lines are capable of conducting damaging levels of voltage. An example of the former type of device is ITWLinx’s SurgeGate line of surge protectors, while an example of the latter is Porta Systems’ gas tube modules.
Think of surge protectors as devices intentionally placed in the line of fire to protect more valuable equipment from transient, short-duration spikes of excessive voltage. Most commonly, a metal oxide varistor (MOV), a type of resistor, is the operative component in the first type of surge protector noted above. It diverts excess voltage by forming a connection with a ground. The MOV diverts only the excess voltage and allows the normal current to power the equipment it is protecting.
As mentioned previously, a second common surge protection device for a telephone system is a gas tube discharge arrestor, which employs an inert gas to act as a conductor. When a voltage spike passes through the device, the gas is transformed from its inert state to an ionized state and is thereby converted to an extremely effective conductor, which then diverts the excess current to a ground. When the voltage spike subsides, the gas returns to its inert state and ceases to conduct electricity.
Both types of devices are relatively inexpensive when compared to the investment in a telephone system and should be utilized to safeguard that investment. Once deployed, surge protectors should be checked periodically to ensure that they remain operative, as small surges can diminish their capacity to withstand voltage spikes. Remember, an ounce of prevention can save a pound of pain.