Sitetracker has announced its latest release, which connects virtually all aspects of field operations, including project tasks, assets and inventory, using a single realtime data base.
“We’ve seen for too long that juggling multiple tools to manage communication between the field and the office creates waste like unnecessary site visits and excessive re-work, ultimately costing businesses money,” said Tim May, Sitetracker chief technical officer. “This next evolution of Sitetracker is helping our customers realize the power of a connected single source of truth platform, which is changing their entire business.”
Now, using a single platform, teams can schedule and dispatch field crews, track inventory, manage short-term work, and capture photos, video and data directly from the field during every step of a project from planning and deployment to on-going maintenance.
“The biggest benefit of Sitetracker’s new release is being able to report on all the activities that go on in the field in Sitetracker, alongside all the relevant project and asset data,” said Kim Martin, VP at Tower Engineering Professionals. “Now, we can track important metrics such as cycle times and crew activities in a single interconnected system, helping us save money by preventing waste.”
“Bridging the digital divide for the Navajo Nation opens up opportunities for Native-owned businesses to grow and for valued citizens to gain access to essential services including 911, online education and telehealth,” Cari Shyiak, president and CEO at SAC Wireless said. “To deploy Nokia 4G LTE RAN solutions over a wide expanse of tribal land, we will be leveraging SAC’s end-to-end deployment capabilities and experience rolling out networks.
Funded through a CARES grant provided in response to COVID-19 impact on the community, the project requires that all sites be operational by the end of 2020.
“With a strong execution team in place, we can meet the deadline while delivering the top tier quality and safety we built the SAC brand upon. This project kicked off in October and runs through the end of the year,” Shyiak said.
The network will use 600 MHz, Citizens Broadband Radio Spectrum (CBRS) and Educational Broadband Services (EBS) spectrum to rapidly add extra coverage and capacity.
“Choice NTUA Wireless was an early proponent for CBRS spectrum and Nokia is a leader in CBRS-based solutions,” John Harrington, SVP, U.S. major accounts, Nokia said. “This partnership will provide the Navajo Nation with the high-speed LTE coverage it needs today, while our 5G-ready AirScale solution ensures that the network can evolve to 5G when needed.”
Located in the Northeast corner of Arizona that includes the “Four Corners,” the Navajo Nation’s remote location creates challenges around cost-effectively installing infrastructure for deploying high-speed internet. Choice NTUA Wireless has long been committed to providing voice and data service to the region to meet tribal members’ residential and business connectivity requirements. Its parent company, ATN International, was one of the top acquiring companies for CBRS priority access licenses (PAL), gaining critical new spectrum to deploy Fixed Wireless Access across the Navajo Nation and in other rural areas in the U.S.
“While COVID-19 has impacted all communities, the Navajo Nation was hit particularly hard. We have had a long-term partnership with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to provide voice and data service across the nation, and our partnership with Nokia and SAC Wireless for this important project allows us to deliver the additional capacity and coverage required to support increased bandwidth needs for education, telehealth and remote workforces,” Tom Guthrie, SVP – general manager, Choice NTUA Wireless said.
It is as though we are entering a three-dimensional holiday card as we look out the front windshield of a bright-red PistenBully snowcat tracked vehicle stuttering up the mountain through evergreen trees adorned with thick dollops of snow toward a tower farm shrouded in a fog of snowflakes.
There is no emergency today. Just a Legacy Telecommunications employee training to be a new snowcat pilot. CEO Jim Tracy’s tone is light, but his message of safety-first is serious as he puts Jay Peterson through his paces. Teaching him the finer points of controlling the snowy leviathan with a tiny joystick.
But if there were an emergency, this is exactly where you would find them.
The prime power for these remote tower sites in the Cascade Mountain Range comes from generators. If a generator goes out, the clock begins to tick – crews have one battery-life to get to that site for repairs.
“When you have an essential link to a microwave system or even a fiber network goes out, you have a very limited window of opportunity before people start losing data, losing money or lifesaving 911 service,” Tracy said. “Our job is to get to that tower under any type of weather conditions. Snow, rain, slush — as long as it is still safe.”
In order to get there safely, Legacy commands a fleet of vehicles that are up for the job: three PistenBully snowcats and five Polaris utility terrain vehicles (UTV) on quad tracks. The snowcats work best in the heaviest snow, and the UTVs work also well into the spring. Legacy always keeps a UTV to back up the snowcat, or vice versa, in case weather conditions change.
The cost of being prepared is not small, however. A snowcat alone will cost around $250,000, including equipment and a trained operator. Inside the cab, it is safety first with multiple communications options, including a GPS unit, a 406 MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (known as an EPIRB), a satellite phone and a land mobile radio, not to mention a cell phone. But even with these high upfront costs straining return on investment, Tracy views mountain tower services as good for business.
Legacy has service level agreements with customers that require it to be on a tower site that may be on a mountainside, inside a six-hour window. Its fleet of vehicles is positioned in different locations across the Northwest, in order to reach the maximum number of mountaintop tower sites. Though based in Seattle, Legacy reaches mountaintop tower sites to the east as far as South Dakota and to the south as far as Wyoming, southern Oregon and Nevada.
The goal, according to Tracy, is to differentiate Legacy from its competitors in the industry by serving customers’ needs when and where they need to be served.
“Our focus is to create value by never allowing our customers’ towers to go down,” Tracy said. “That allows us to keep our customers happy. We are trying to make sure that they can call us anytime for anything.”
A Path to Diversification
The ability to get technicians to the top of a tower at the top of a mountain in rain, sleet or snow has diversified Legacy’s clients. When you roll up to a mountaintop tower farm, you may see tower owned by FAA for air-to-ground communications. The Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Service administers sites and access rather than owning towers. So Legacy has access through and on government property to service sites under their leases. That opens up a number of new customer possibilities. Legacy’s office in Three Forks, Montana, has to access Yellowstone National Park in the winter to reach tower sites when you are more likely to find a bison, elk or moose than a clear road.
“Our ability to reach mountaintops has opened up other avenues for us,” Tracy said. “Legacy has been successful in providing drone service to tower sites in the mountains for the oil and gas community and others in the telecom world, not only for inspections but also for predicting upgrades or to determine whether a tower is safe to climb.”
Legacy Telecommunications, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary this summer, has evolved its fleet over years. If you go back to the year 2000, the fleet included a half-dozen four-wheel-drive, three-quarter-ton Chevy pickups. Ten years later, you would have found a single PistenBully, a pair of UTV quads on wheels and a few pickup trucks fitted with large tool boxes. Today, you will find everything from tractors to excavators, pickup trucks, utility-type service bodies, PistenBullys, excavators, quads on tracks and portable generators.
“Our fleet has changed remarkably over the years, but it is all customer-driven,” Tracy said. “Between the Rockies and the Cascades, we get snow by the yard, not the inch, and our customer may need us when the weather is tough. If you can be their hero during their bad times, they should feel safe with you when the jobs are easier, as well.”
Centerline Solutions, a Golden, Colorado-based company that specialized in developing, designing, building and maintaining wireless networks, closed its doors last week, laying off 202 employees and filing for Chapter 7 liquidation under the U.S. bankruptcy code.
The news was surprising, because Centerline was involved in high-growth areas of wireless such as 5G wireless communications, small cells and fiber. Centerline, begun in 2011 as a combination of ATECS and MC Squared Holdings, grew nearly 300 percent from 2014 to 2016 through a series of eight acquisitions and was named a top telecommunications company (#18) by Inc. 5,000.
Most recently, in 2016, Centerline expanded to the Southeast, purchasing Florida-based UCI Construction Services. In order to complete the UCI transaction and prepare Centerline for future growth, the company was recapitalized with an equity investment from Concentric Equity Partners and a new credit facility led by Bank of the West’s Commercial Banking Group.
Ian Ross of Concentric Equity Partners, told AGL eDigest, Centerline was closed because it could “never make money. There are only three customers (the tier one carriers) and they are very tough on their supply chain,” he said. “They want to squeeze all the margin out.”
Centerline also had trouble getting their customers to pay them on time, with payments sometimes delayed up to 120 days, according to Ross.
“We have to do a lot of work up front, millions of dollars’ worth of work for our customers, before we were even allowed to invoice them, and then you wait 30, 60, 90 days,” Ross said.
Centerline grew through acquisitions. UCI Construction was Centerline’s eighth purchase since its founding. Prior to UCI, its largest acquisition was Cascadia PM, a Washington-based leading provider of wireless project program management, in January 2015. Other acquisitions from included IDC Joint Venture (Hawaii, August 2015), Wireless Limited (Colorado, May 2015) and KbarM Consulting (Idaho, August 2014).
With the acquisition of UCI, Centerline increased its number of employees to a high of more 420. But by the time it had closed its doors, the staff had shrunk by a half.
“We tried to expand the business to serve more customers and provide more services, but we couldn’t make money at it so we ended up contracting,” Ross said. “There are only a few key customers, and they have lots of power. There are low barriers for entry into the industry for service providers to build out this infrastructure.”
Cutthroat competition among telecom service providers also took its toll on Centerline’s bottom line, as thousands of wireless telecom infrastructure service providers vie for the business of four (sometimes three) tier one carriers.
“An established company with insurance, safety, accounting and training has a hard time competing with three guys and a truck,” Ross said. “The carriers don’t see the value. They just give the job to the lowest bidder.”
RF Guys has partnered with Ehresmann Engineering to deliver cell tower/infrastructure mapping solutions.
RF Guys simplifies the data compilations and delivers high-definition sub-centimeter point cloud site data. The company uses remote sensing UAS, ground stations, ground penetrating radar, terrestrial LiDar and its own data acquisition and back-end processing.
Ehresmann Engineering is a tower engineering and manufacturing company that has been in the telecommunication industry for over 34 years. EEI designs, manufacturers, and installs tower and tower modifications. Its field services include tower inspections, tower modification, and new tower and foundation installations.
EEI’s unmanned aerial vehicle infrastructure imaging programs allow it to gather pictures, video, point clouds, RF measurements, and other data on towers. It also employs a terrestrial Lidar to gather highly accurate information on towers., EEI delivers the information through an internet portal, Needmore Reports, which is a cloud-based program that gives users a web interface to track and manage assets.
RF Guys has specific imaging solutions, and combined with Ehresmann’s engineering firm, it is able to provide a complete package to customers.
The field services and UAV operations of EEI complement RF Guys’s capability to provide complete services including structural engineering, tower and component manufacturing, field services, as well as UAV services. The different locations of EEI, based in Yankton, South Dakota, and RF Guy, with two locations in California, allows the companies to cover more territory economically with the UAV services.
“We are able to draw on the experience that each company has to provide the best quality product on the market and be able to responsive to our customer needs. There is no project too great for us to accomplish,” the companies said in a press release.