Article | 30 August 2022

Connectivity and Construction: clicks among bricks

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Adhi 800x800
Written by
Adhi Theawarajan, Product Manager Malaysia

If there’s one environment that’s made for wireless, it’s a construction site. Heavy machinery rumbling, digging and repositioning; a vast number of moving parts, both human and machine; dynamic patterns of activity, with plans and projects updated on the fly.

And, of course, the environment itself shifts shape as work progresses. A clear line-of-sight on Monday becomes a dividing wall by the weekend; a powered zone on Wednesday may be unplugged as the second shift arrives. But with strict rules to be followed, under threat of fines – it’s how construction firms stayed at work during Covid ­– connectivity isn’t optional. So building companies need “smart sites”, where every piece of equipment and every worker is tracked and monitored for security and safety.

And the site itself isn’t the only place where the construction sector is adopting wireless LTE/5G technologies. Indeed, the real picture’s much broader. Yet there are still many construction industry players unaware of their wireless options – and missing out on opportunities because of it. In this article, we explore a few of them:

Construction site

On site: connectivity at both edge and core

An LTE/5G wireless network means more than enabling workers to check their Instagram accounts. (!) Increasingly, it’s about connecting the objects the humans work withthe Internet of Things.

What Things? It includes door access controls, checking workers’ identities as they enter the site (in many countries, it’s a legal requirement to know exactly who’s working today); it’s in the intelligent badges many workers wear, so legal restrictions like social distancing can be checked. It’s also about equipment tagging, so individual assets can be tracked and maintained on schedule. And security infrastructure, too: sensors and alarms for everything from injuries to fire, so “hot spots” can be recognised as risks.

Modern LTE/5G can handle far more nodes (individual devices on the network) than previous iterations – even many kilometres from public network coverage. So even at a single construction site, wireless leaves no device unconnected.

Working together: bandwidth for collaboration

As wireless networks developed around the world, the building trades were among the first business people to use them, starting with those analogue “mobile” phones of 30 years ago. They were the size of a brick; in fact, on a building site, they were easily mistaken for one! But the action’s moved on: today’s hardworking plasterer or carpenter is likely to be toting a laptop with sophisticated business applications.

Because wireless bandwidth is letting designers and project managers collaborate in real-time more effectively. Once, a wiring diagram might have had foremen and crew scratching their heads while phone calls were made to the architect. Today, the actual schematics and specifications can be shared on laptop screens onsite, reducing the risks of being misunderstood.

Faster, easier, less prone to errors? Like in any business, that’s what people on a construction site want.

BIM: Feeding data back to the Big Picture

There’s another angle. A high-bandwidth connection lets people on site see drawings and documents – and that’s great – but it works both ways.

Building Information Management (BIM) software also collects data from the site itself, and feeds it back into an application used by executives to check everything’s going according to plan. While later in the process, other acronyms like CAFM (Computer Aided Facilities Management) and IWMS (Integrated Workplace Management System) also rely on timely and accurate data from IoT devices to keep costs under control. In many industries we work with – agriculture, mining, energy – the building project is never truly complete.

This is why wireless connectivity remains the choice of many building operators long after the contractors have gone.

The initial construction phase may be temporary, but the kind of locations that benefit most from wireless – remote mines, rural agriculture, solar farms out in the desert or logging operations deep in the forest – carry on growing and developing with the business opportunities. A well-thought-out wireless solution can keep the data flowing.

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Dealing with "under construction" environments

The flexible nature of wireless networks – routers and antennae connected over the air rather than needing cables – gives LTE/5G a head start: it’s what builders describe as “drill proof” by design. (In other words, because it’s wireless, a careless carpenter can’t make a hole in it!)

But of course, a building site isn’t a static environment, so the wireless network requires careful planning from the start. (A metre-thick retaining wall will interrupt the 5G experience as surely as a crushed cable.) A good site survey anticipates both current and future problems, “building in” capacity and workarounds to avoid issues. And as your needs change over time, the setup can change too.

Equipment tough enough for the job

Another pain point: many wired routers and other gear, designed for air-conditioned offices, aren’t optimal for the outdoor life on a building site. That’s why we offer site-proven ruggedised components depending on your needs – equipment that can deal effectively with cold, wind, rain, maybe even the odd hurricane or monsoon. Keeping the connectivity functioning in all seasons.

Multiple sites – but a single agreement

It’s best to keep things simple. But a builder of any size will have multiple projects on the go – and that means complexity. A DIY approach means SIM cards from a dozen national carriers, contracts that differ wildly between sites, and definitions of bandwidth that fluctuate up and down across borders. (And even between providers in the same country). All of it front-loading costs and eating precious time.

An unsung but hugely useful aspect of a Blue Wireless solution is that it overlays every mobile provider and public 4G/5G network we work with; we deal with the relationships so you don’t have to. That means a single contract with service guarantees like failover capacity and bandwidth included, so you only have to deal with us. And that applies no matter how many physical locations you need to cover.

Case study: building on Japanese success

One notable Japanese construction giant uses Blue Wireless across multiple sites after bad experiences DIYing it, including unstable connections and low throughput speeds. Today, the company enjoys 100Mbs wireless connectivity at its top sites – with automatic failovers if the primary provider stops working.

And no local permits!

It sounds like a small point, but it’s important: because Blue Wireless uses public LTE/5G funnelled to your sites via proven antenna and routing technology, no additional licenses or permits are needed – because you’re using an existing mobile network, not creating a new one. And you have a choice of Public or Private IP too. Letting you get up and running even faster. For many in construction, this is the icing on the cake.

Your future is wireless

By its nature, construction happens in places with poor pre-existing infrastructure, in hard-to-reach locations, where heavy machinery and hazardous conditions are a fact of life. That’s what makes wireless LTE/5G the ideal solution – connecting all the moving parts without getting in the way.

And it’s why an increasing number of building firms are turning to Blue Wireless to get the job done. Learn more about our solutions or download our construction brochure below.

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Adhi Theawarajan, Product Manager

Let's explore together how wireless can meet your connectivity and business requirements.

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