The world of telecommunications has never stopped at the door of our office or home. Some of the most critical telecom equipment, from cell service towers to land line wires, have always been located outside. Along with this equipment come the devices that control, secure and connect it.
These telecommunications devices are typically quite sensitive and need outdoor telecommunications enclosures to protect them. These outdoor enclosures are made from rugged materials such as polycarbonate or stainless steel that safeguard them from environmental hazards.
In this guide to outdoor telecommunications enclosures, we’ll review the many types of enclosures on the market. We’ll look at factors that determine which one is right for your application, as well as some outdoor telecommunications enclosure options from Polycase that provide high-performance protection. First, let’s examine what applications you might need an outdoor telecommunications enclosure for.
Applications for Outdoor Telecommunications Enclosures
Many types of devices need an outdoor telecommunications enclosure. Common applications in today’s telecom landscape include:
- Wi-Fi routers and range extenders
- Base stations for 3G, 4G and 5G service
- Edge computing server equipment
- IoT devices
- Cable or satellite TV equipment
Each of these applications can be an essential element in the interwoven world of telecommunications. Thus, device designers need protective solutions that minimize the risk of downtime and device damage. Using an outdoor telecommunications enclosure is the most common solution.
Outdoor electronics enclosures are built to survive harsh weather and tough conditions. They can protect against a wide variety of hazardous environmental factors, which we’ll discuss next.
Assessing Environmental Hazards
The purpose of an outdoor electronics enclosure is to protect the device from hazards present in an outdoor environment. Thus, one of the first steps to selecting the right enclosure is assessing the environmental factors that a device will need protection from.
Hazards can vary widely depending on your device’s location. However, for outdoor telecommunications devices, hazards will typically include one or more of the following:
- Windblown dust, dirt and debris
- Precipitation such as rain, snow, hail and sleet
- Ice forming on the exterior of the enclosure
- Temporary or prolonged submersion in water
- High-pressure hose-directed water streams
- Dripping or splashing oil or coolant
- Unauthorized access to the device
- Accidental contact with employees’ bodies or tools
Once you’ve assessed the likely hazards your device will face, you can begin choosing the material your enclosure will be made from. First, however, you’ll need to consider the electromagnetic transmission properties your enclosure will need.
Certain telecommunications devices (such as Wi-Fi routers) operate by transmitting wireless radiofrequency signals through their enclosures. Other devices use components such as external antennas or Ethernet cords to send and receive signals. It’s important to know which category your telecommunications device falls into because it will affect which types of enclosures are suitable.
Some metallic enclosure materials such as aluminum and stainless steel are naturally poor transmitters of radiofrequency signals. This property is known as radiofrequency shielding or electromagnetic shielding, and it can help block interference from other electronic devices, making it a potentially desirable feature for an enclosure. However, in other cases, these features will block important signal transmissions from your device.
To choose an enclosure with the correct transmission properties, you’ll need to be familiar with the different types of enclosure materials available on the market. In the next section, we’ll discuss the most common materials for outdoor telecommunications enclosures.
Choosing an Enclosure Material
Outdoor electronics enclosures can be made from a wide variety of materials. Carefully consider the benefits and drawbacks of each one:
- Polycarbonate Enclosures:
- Description: A hard plastic that’s available in many shapes and designs
- Pros: Durable, versatile, easy to machine
- Cons: Can be vulnerable to cracking or sun damage if not UV stabilized
- Stainless Steel Enclosures:
- Description: An alloy of conventional steel with elements like chromium and molybdenum that makes it harder and more resilient
- Pros: Resistant to scratches and corrosion, elegant and attractive look, offers some natural RF shielding
- Cons: More expensive than other material types, hard to machine
- Carbon Steel Enclosures:
- Description: A standard type of steel that’s good for a variety of applications
- Pros: Cost-effective, sturdy, can be painted or coated for better corrosion resistance, offers some natural RF shielding
- Cons: Not as durable as stainless steel
- Aluminum Enclosures:
- Description: A tough and attractive metal with natural radiofrequency shielding
- Pros: Aesthetically attractive, extremely durable, natural RF shielding
- Cons: Blocks RF transmissions, so not a good choice for devices with internal antennas
Note that enclosures made from other materials, such as ABS plastic enclosures, usually aren’t recommended for outdoor applications. Next, you’ll need to decide what NEMA or IP rating your outdoor telecommunications enclosure needs to have.
Choosing a NEMA or IP Rating
NEMA ratings and IP ratings are two of the major tools that device designers use to choose an enclosure for electronic devices. They’re both rating systems that use a combination of letters and numbers to represent an enclosure’s protective capabilities. Both rate an enclosure’s protection against liquid and solid ingress, but beyond that, there are some important differences to know about:
- NEMA Ratings: NEMA ratings (such as NEMA 4 enclosures and NEMA 6 enclosures) are a rating system primarily used in the United States. They ascend from the lowest level of NEMA 1 to the highest level of NEMA 6P. Note that NEMA ratings don’t go in strict numerical order, so certain ratings (like NEMA 12) actually offer less protection even though they have higher numbers. NEMA ratings include factors that IP ratings don’t address, such as resistance to corrosion.
- IP Ratings: IP ratings (such as IP65 enclosures and IP68 enclosures) are another ingress rating system used in the EU and other countries around the world. The first number of an IP rating rates the device’s solid ingress protection on a scale of 0 to 6, and the second number rates its liquid ingress protection on a scale of 0 to 9. IP22 is the standard minimum rating for any kind of electronic equipment, but IP66, IP67 and IP68 are common ratings for outdoor telecommunications enclosures.
It’s possible to convert IP ratings to NEMA ratings of a roughly equivalent level. However, because NEMA ratings rate characteristics that IP ratings don’t cover, it’s not always possible to convert NEMA ratings to IP ratings.
Finally, remember that IP and NEMA ratings are voluntary and not administered by the agencies that created them. Thus, it’s important to make sure that enclosures have been certified by an independent materials testing service such as Underwriters Laboratories. Polycase’s IP and NEMA rated enclosures are UL-certified to give our customers the utmost confidence in our products.
Important Features for Outdoor Telecommunications Enclosures
Depending on the application, your outdoor telecommunications enclosure may need to have certain built-in features for mounting, operation or security. Some common form factor requirements include:
- Hinged doors for easy access
- Keyed lock systems for security
- Molded mounting flanges or feet for quick and easy mounting
- Transparent covers for easy readability
- Built-in mounting bosses for printed circuit board installation
- Bonding studs for electrical grounding
Polycase offers clear cover enclosures, hinged enclosures and a huge variety of other useful enclosure features.
Outdoor Telecommunications Enclosure Accessories
Your outdoor telecommunications enclosure may also require certain types of hardware accessories to fulfill its application. Consider whether your enclosure might require any of the following:
- Cable Glands: These durable plastic plugs fit snugly around a cable and help secure cable cutouts against moisture and dirt. They are available in a variety of sizes to accommodate different cable types.
- Enclosure Vents: Many enclosures need to be vented to prevent accumulation of moisture and heat inside. Sealed enclosure vents allow moisture and heat to safely escape the enclosure without allowing dirt and moisture to flow back in.
- Internal Mounting Panels: Mounting panels provide a surface for mounting device components inside an enclosure and include screws for mounting.
- DIN Rail Kits: A DIN rail kit allows device components such as terminal blocks to be mounted on a DIN rail inside an enclosure. Kits include the DIN rail itself plus mounting screws.
- Pole Mounting Kits: Pole mounting kits include the hardware needed to attach a device to a utility pole, including brackets, screws and stainless steel bands.
- Paint Kits: Some carbon steel enclosures, like the Polycase SB Series, should receive regular paint touch-ups to protect against corrosion. These kits include corrosion-resistant paint and a bottle with a built-in brush.
Make sure to thoroughly examine the bill of materials and requirements documentation for your device to determine whether it will require additional accessories. Note that many types of accessories (such as mounting panels, DIN rail kits and pole mounting kits) are designed for compatibility with a specific series or model of enclosure, so be sure to look for enclosures and accessories that are designed to work together.
Customizing Your Outdoor Telecommunications Enclosure
Customizing an outdoor electronics enclosure typically involves two types of processes: custom machining and digital printing:
- Custom enclosure machining is the process of creating cutouts in the enclosure to provide space for cables, conduits, ventilation and other critical enclosure features. Cutouts can come in many different shapes, and they need to be performed by highly accurate CNC machining to ensure that they’re to spec. Common needs include cutouts for cable glands and threaded or counterbored holes for inserting bolts, screws or other mounting hardware.
- Digital printing is the process of using digital printers to add graphics, instructions, warnings or any other kind of required visual information to an enclosure. True digital printing prints directly onto the enclosure instead of using a label, which makes it resistant to cracking, bubbling and peeling.
Polycase is proud to be a one-stop shop for customized enclosures. We offer in-house CNC machined cutouts and digital printing that take your enclosures from stock to fully customized before they even leave our facility. Our customized enclosure turnaround times are typically just one to three weeks, so you can get your enclosures more quickly and keep your operations on schedule.
Outdoor Telecommunications Enclosures from Polycase
Our full selection of outdoor enclosures includes dozens of models with a huge variety of features. Here are some of the most popular models we offer, along with their highest NEMA and IP ratings:
- Polycase WC Series (NEMA 4X/IP66): The WC Series are some of our most popular and cost-effective polycarbonate enclosures, with features that make them perfect for all kinds of outdoor telecom applications. They are available with clear covers for easy reading and built-in mounting flanges to make mounting a snap.
- Polycase HD Series (NEMA 4X/IP66): Our customers love the HD Series for its sharp looks and rugged protection. With a silicone rubber gasket and an extra-deep cover with hidden screws for improved aesthetics and security, the HD Series is perfect for protecting outdoor electronics.
- Polycase ML Series (NEMA 6P/IP68): The ML Series offers ultra-high-performance polycarbonate enclosures designed to protect against the toughest weather and even extended submersion. This series is designed with built-in mounting flanges and available with s an optional clear cover.
- Polycase SA Series (NEMA 4X/IP66): Our premier stainless steel enclosure option, the SA Series provides a new level of protection and elegance. It includes a hinged and gasketed door with a quarter turn keyed latch for secure and waterproof performance, plus screw-on feet for secure surface mounting.
- Polycase SB Series (NEMA 4X/IP66): These carbon steel enclosures are highly cost-effective while offering the high-performance protection of steel. Like the SA Series, they include hinged lids with keyed locks, as well as screw-on mounting feet.
- Polycase AN Series (NEMA 6P/IP68): Another ultra-tough NEMA 6P enclosure series designed to survive the most brutal conditions, the AN Series are Polycase’s premier aluminum enclosure options.
- Polycase SK Series (NEMA 4X/IP66/IK08): Designed for the perfect balance of easy installation and pro-grade protection, the SK Series features built-in knockouts that are easy to remove with a screwdriver. This series also features an IK08 rating for impact protection.
Polycase is an industry leader in durable outdoor telecommunications enclosures, and we have the knowledge and product line to help you find the perfect enclosure for your application. Browse our full selection of outdoor enclosures today, contact us online for more information or call us at 1-800-248-1233 for a personal consultation with our enclosure experts.