Surge Protection for Smart Poles

The smart pole of today is not just for RF or IOT. We need to have the LED lighting and monitoring all protected. Protected from lightning and from power surges. 

In fact, we also have to plan for growth. 

Recently we found a use for poles. We found that the city can make some money off of these poles so that they can contribute income instead of being a drain. We also found that light poles across the city can use LED lighting to save on utility. 

We also found it costs a fortune upfront to do any upgrades. It ain’t free folks!

The cities have been upgrading but are they putting enough thought into what they are adding? I found that most are just upgrading the lighting or putting in a new pole here or there. That’s not going to cut it. 

Let’s look at the pole, specifically grounding, power, and surge protection. These are often overlooked when making changes or upgrades. When putting the pole in, they generally drive in the ground rod and ground the pole. Is that enough? Of course not.

They may put in a power distribution panel, but does it have surge protection? Probably not. 

Did they even think about surge protection for their LED lights? For the radios? For the Wi-Fi or IOT devices?

My friends over at Alltec LLC helped me walk through the foundation of power and protection. 


 Starting with the foundation, let’s look at the grounding. Generally, inside the pole, they have a ground rod they put in when they do the installation. I saw how they did that at the Signify factory. They have the details on grounding for the poles in each region. There are requirements that should be looked at prior to installation. 

I would plan for multiple devices to connect to the ground. So make sure you not only have an acceptable ground system that you tested and documented the findings for each pole. Then make sure that the grounding is going to be acceptable to all tenants. It may be different for poles with radios versus one with LED lighting versus IOT and Wi-Fi sites. ‘

The grounding system should go to a bus bar that all can connect to it. The pole has to be grounded but each piece of equipment should be grounded properly.  Performance equipment such as Alltecs TerraDyne electrolytic grounding system offers an advantage in creating a more stable ground resistance.  There are other options available than traditional ground rods.

This is being done for traffic control,, and now we have to adapt it to the smart pole for more than just traffic lights. The pole now will have more and more equipment as it becomes a vital part of the cities infrastructure and part of the city revenue stream.

Plan to have a great ground at each and every pole, this is the foundation of your protection. Grounding and bonding properly as well as the distribution of that ground will be key in all the other protection at the pole. It’s just like a tower site where a good ground is needed to ensure proper surge and lightning protection. 

Power Distribution

Here is one thing that most poles need to add. The power at a pole is usually installed for one purpose and one purpose only. This has to change. Now, when running power to a pole, you have to plan for expansion. You have to install surge protection in the power distribution. 

While anyone who has equipment at the pole will have some type of over-voltage protection, chances are good they will only do it for their device and it may not be sufficient. 

The key here is to think about what you could do at a data center or tower site. You would put in surge protection in the power distribution. It makes sense, right?

Also, you want to have a power distribution system that multiple users can access. This may take some planning, but you have to be prepared for growth. If you have the opportunity to do it upfront, great. If not, when you do the upgrade, make sure you plan for expansion. 

The original lighting systems may just have wires running to it from a master distribution system somewhere underground or back at a traffic lightbox. These were the way it was run years ago. Today’s systems with LED lighting will have not only power but some type of alarming and perhaps a network connection, (backhaul). As we move into upgrading the cities infrastructure, we have to plan as much as we can. Power is a necessity at almost every pole in today’s smart city. 

The idea that power has to be added or upgraded at a pole can seem daunting. If it has to be done, think of how to make it as future proof as you possibly can. Think of what else may be added to that pole. 

Upfront planning will save you expenses in the future. 

Surge Protection

If you’re going to add a new power distribution panel, make sure it has surge protection. Maybe a way to help protect the equipment you put in the pole from getting fried when the first surge hits.

If you think it doesn’t happen, think again. The power at a pole may not be the cleanest, to begin with. Factor that along with a car could hit another pole at any time causing a surge. Lightning and storms, heavy downpours, water in the street, power surges due to heavy usage in nearby buildings, air conditioner use on hot days, and the list goes on and on. 

It’s something that should be thought of when adding the power distribution. Sure, it will cost more but then it’s done. Investment on the front end saves expenses later on – downtime, lost profits, and liability should be considered.

The thing is, most equipment can survive most problems, but the surges can also lock up equipment or fry it all together. Then you have a service call, maybe for more than one piece of equipment. Something that can’t be reset remotely because chances are good that if it’s locked up you can’t get to it remotely. 

You could also put in a monitor for the surge protector so you know is it took a hit. It’s an option that seems extreme for a pole, but one that you may want. 

As we add IOT, Wi-Fi, and 5G to these poles, why not protect everything. 

LED lighting also needs protection. 

Lightning Protection

Surge suppression is key, but depending upon where you’re at, you may need lightning protection. It’s something that we do at tower sites and rooftops. The safest bet is to make sure all Some poles are may need to be prepared for lightning.

I worked on Kent Island, Maryland, and saw lightning take out power when striking wood poles on the island. It was incredible to see. I never thought lightning would strike a pole like that, but I actually saw it happen. Pretty wild. 

It does happen. I have seen it and it will happen again. If you need lightning protection, plan for it ahead of time. 


The idea here is to have a pole that allows you to add what you need when you need it. This doesn’t mean that it has to be one pole for everything but a pole for a specific purpose. You don’t need everything in one pole.

When I talked to Alltec, they have a plan for the LED systems just like they have a plan for 5G. Can you duplicate the protection? Probably following their Protection pyramid. It all starts with grounding and power. 

When I toured the Signify plant, I say that they understand that you will have IOT poles and Small Cell poles. They have different designs. They have lighting already built-in. They can provide you with the pole you need. They also have room for surge protection and power distribution. 

The smart city planning goes beyond what pole you will use, but into the design of the pole and what pole for what purpose. That needs to be thought of when planning and prior to deploying. 


They are working on 5G solutions where space is limited and protection is critical.


Thank you for your time to learn something new! Let’s use it today.

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

See Ya!

I appreciate all of your support. Thank you so much!



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