Rapid network deployment in construction

The mobile and fluid nature of most construction operations presents some unusual challenges when creating the correct network infrastructure. At every phase, on site personnel need real-time access to the data they require to operate efficiently. Many sites are in remote locations and, even when they are in an urban setting, implementing a wired network adds unacceptable cost and time delay to the project. Communications have to be there at day one – the initial site surveys – but must scale as the project progresses. Roger Mandeville says the right rapid deploy network solution can evolve and grow seamlessly with the construction project.

Tuesday 26th August 14

IT is integral to so much of what we do. Within a generation, it has changed how construction projects operate. Personnel on site now expect to have the data they need at their fingertips. Productivity and profitability are driven by how effectively the construction company can manage all aspects of the project. A project can't wait for a communications infrastructure to be created. It has to be in place from the moment the first people arrive on-site.

Wired infrastructure – especially with the growing availability of fibre – provides low cost and high bandwidth. Where available, it is always likely to be the first choice for site connectivity. More often, however, wired is not available and the time and expense involved to apply for licenses and lay the physical infrastructure can potentially put the viability of the entire project in jeopardy. Even where wired infrastructure is available, it may not provide the necessary reliability for remote construction sites. One organisation that Datasat has worked with in Africa complained that its cable was continually being dug up and removed.

Some organisations have considered cellular technology a preferable approach. It is cost-effective and relies on a mature and developing technology. The implementation of a 3G/4G WAN can quickly bring communications to a construction site. The drawback to adopting a cellular network is twofold: First the proximity to a cellular tower. Secondly, the reliability of the network. Even in the heart of major cities like London or New York, it is not always possible to rely on a cellular connection. We have all experienced the lack of reception on our mobile phones – probably on a daily basis.  As the strain on public cellular networks grows, caused by the rapid expansion of data services, so it will become increasingly difficult to ensure the reliability of the site's communications.  

The traditional solution for remote communications is satellite. A VSAT connection can be rapidly established and provide network availability of as much as 99.97% guaranteed almost anywhere in the world. Satellite's drawback has always been its cost. Purchasing dedicated bandwidth on a space segment was an extremely expensive option. As satellite bandwidth capacity increases, new super-fast satellites are deployed and costs reduced, satellite is once more becoming a very attractive option for construction sites, whether placed in an urban or remote location.

The other weakness that satellite has suffered from on a construction site was its difficulty in delivering data to a mobile workforce. Satellite phones are limited, bulky and expensive. Frankly, in these days of Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) they seem quaintly antiquated. There is still an application for these phones in extremely remote environments. They don't reflect the needs of a modern construction site where the latest rich media business and operational applications are being accessed on laptops, tablets and smartphones.

The solution is to deploy satellite for backhaul and back-up while a wireless LAN takes care of on-site communications. This delivers the best of both worlds. An integrated satellite/wireless unit can be installed and operational on-site in hours. It can easily be expanded as the network grows or re-deployed as different phases of the project commence.

The major benefit of this approach is its ability to ensure real-time, rich media data is available to the people that need it wherever they are on site – and from their chosen device. Datasat has developed its own range of outdoor wireless equipment that is optimised for video and rich media traffic. It can quickly deploy a wireless 'hotspot' that all personnel within network coverage have immediate and secure access. The network can then grow one node at a time to cost-effectively deliver the site's communications needs over the lifecycle of the project – from site survey to decommissioning.

Employing unique IP layer intelligence, with fine-grained policy management, Datasat's system enables construction companies to implement different levels of access and security for different users, devices, organisations and user groups. This means multiple public and private networks can operate over the same network infrastructure without impacting the integrity and performance of the network. In this way, on site personnel always have the network bandwidth they need as traffic priorities are set and bandwidth dynamically allocated as required.

This communications solution has a number of productivity and cost benefits for construction companies. It can quickly and cost-effectively deployed from day one. It can grow and evolve to meet the construction projects exact needs. The equipment can be effectively re-deployed as required. When wired or fibre infrastructure is available, this infrastructure provides effective back-up and fail over to provide even more resilience to the network.

Even with the reduction in satellite bandwidth costs, a dedicated satellite back-up channel can be a huge expense for construction companies. Datasat is working closely with satellite providers to introduce an innovative back-up solution for fibre networks for large construction companies. The solution would allow companies to pool bandwidth with different sites in different countries or continents or with other large companies whose primary fibre supplier was not the same. In the case of a fibre failure, the required proportion of the pooled bandwidth would be dynamically assigned to the site which had lost communications. The result is an effective fail-over system at a fraction of the cost of a traditional dedicated link.

Network performance and security are paramount for every construction operation. A hybrid satellite and wireless solution delivers a communications infrastructure that is quick to implement and redeploy. It provides real time access to the bandwidth hungry applications that modern construction sites demand to drive productivity and profitability. It allows for the network to grow and evolve as the construction project dictates. All with greater reliability and lower cost than alternative communications solutions. Whether situated in an urban or remote environment, it enables all the network services the site needed over a single secure infrastructure.