A long time ago when telephones were so simple almost nothing could go amiss from an electrical point of view, Telecom operators installed surge protection on all telephone lines exposed to storm risks. Paradoxically, now that we are hooking up delicate and expensive equipment such as telephones filled with electronics, fax machines, (A)DSL modems, etc., this protection has disappeared. However, if you have the good fortune to live in the countryside in a building served by overhead telephone lines, there’s an obvious risk of very high voltages being induced on the lines during thunderstorms. While we have lost count today of all of the modems, fax machines and other telephones that have been destroyed by a ‘bolt of lightning’, surprisingly you only have to invest a few pounds to get a remarkably efficient protection device like the one we are proposing here. During a storm, often with lightning striking near a telephone line, the line carries transient voltages up to several thousands of volts. Contrary to the HV section of television sets or electrical fences, on which practically no current is running, in the case of lighting striking current surges of thousand of amps are not uncommon. To protect oneself from such destructive pulses, traditional components are not powerful or fast enough. As you can see on our drawing, a (gas-filled) spark gap should be used. Such a component contains three electrodes, insulated from each other, in an airtight cylinder filled with rare gas.
As long as the voltage present between the electrodes is below a certain threshold, the spark gap remains perfectly passive and presents an impedance of several hundreds of MW. On the other hand, when the voltage rises above this threshold, the gas is very rapidly ionized and the spark-gap suddenly becomes a full conductor to the point of being able to absorb colossal currents without being destroyed. The one we are using here, whose size is of the same magnitude as an ordinary one watt resistor, can absorb a standardized 5,000 amps pulse lasting 8/20 ms! Since we are utilizing a three-electrode spark gap, the voltage between the two wires of the line or between any wire and ground, cannot exceed the sparking voltage, which is about 250 volts here. Such protection could theoretically suffice but we preferred to add a second security device made with a VDR (GeMOV or SiOV depending on the manufacturer), which also limits the voltage between line wires to a maximum of 250 volts.
Even if this value seems high to you, we should remember that all of the authorized telephone equipment, carrying the CE mark must be able to withstand it without damage. This is not always the case however with some low-end devices made in China, but that’s an entirely different problem. Since pulses generated by lightning are very brief, the ground connection of our assembly must be as lowinductance as possible. It must therefore be short, and composed of heavy-duty wire (1.5 mm2 c.s.a. is the minimum). If not, the coil, composed of the ground connection, blocks the high frequency signal that constitutes the pulse and reduces the assembly’s effectiveness to nothing. Finally, please note that this device obviously has no effect on the low frequency signals of telephones and fax machines and it does not disturb (A)DSL signals either.