Fibreplanner at 4site

Delivering Nokia infrastructure

Meeting new needs with proven skills

“In a fast-changing sector like telecoms, experience is proving to be our most valuable asset”

David Sheehan, Telecoms Engineer at 4site, explains how hard-earned knowledge and skills are enabling his company to tackle every kind of network infrastructure project.

4site nokia

Anyone working in the telecoms sector knows that a seamless ability to change with the market is a prerequisite for survival, and that applies as much to infrastructure engineering as it does to the operators selling the services.

When 4site first opened for business in 2002 we quickly established a reputation for design and survey expertise, particularly around fast-growing mobile infrastructure. Our first big projects were around 3G and we have been growing our competency in wireless base stations with every new generation since. This year we are focusing on the rollout of 5G.

In the last few years we have developed engineering competencies in fibre optic networks, recognising that they will be instrumental in meeting growing demand for data. We have been delivering into fixed-line in general and winning tenders that reflect the way our network engineering capabilities have matured through recruitment, upskilling and the development of a Fibre Centre of Excellence in our Limerick HQ.

We also regularly invite infrastructure equipment vendors into our Fibre Centre of Excellence to show us their hardware, so we can familiarise ourselves with leading edge technology before it’s commercially available. It’s a reciprocal arrangement that works well for both sides.

Growing network competencies

Recently a large utility company was looking to upgrade its MPLS  switch network as their core routers were coming close to end of life and therefore an upgrade was needed, so as to avoid network issues or possibility failure.

4site were delighted to be selected as the service partner to rollout and swap out the old infrastructure for new, which saw us beating over half a dozen other companies including some UK network infrastructure specialists. Coincidentally, Nokia core equipment was selected for the network swap, and we had been working with for years prior on other projects.

Our strong background in surveys, drawing, design and build, coupled with our reputation for solid and reliable project management, meant we were perfect for the job.

The work involved swapping out legacy equipment at critical base station locations across the length and breadth of Ireland, from Cork to Lough and Waterford to Kerry. Essentially, we were setting up a pilot network that could be handed over to the client for final implementation and ongoing management. The upgraded network would have a circular topology that was to be centrally managed out of network operations centre in Dublin.

Preparation and execution

We had to install a test configuration in around 20 sites in two months. Training days at the start of the project familiarised ourselves with required Nokia hardware. Next, we undertook a survey of substations prior to installing the kit and alerted the clients to any potential obstacles. If any element was identified as not fit for purpose, we recommended technical upgrades before we commenced work. Preparation is everything in a job like this.

We were given an empty rack, a power supply feed, and a rough a design on where they wanted the units installed. Once on site, we racked and stacked the units before connecting them to fibre, power and Ethernet. If there were any issues, we would log in via a remote desktop application and liaise directly with Nokia.

There were logistical tasks as well as engineering. Nokia provides the hardware but we ordered up all the consumables, including different types of fibre cable, and it was up to us build a rapport with suppliers and get the best deals.

Project challenges

Every project has its challenges and snags so the trick is to prepare for the unexpected. An early hiccup came with the consumables, specifically the fibre-optic cable. As anyone who has worked in networks will know, any spec of dirt on the head of a connector can be detrimental to testing.

On a single site you could have 64 fibre cables with two connectors in each cable – so that’s 128 individual fibre connectors that have to be checked at every location. Fibre is supposed arrive out of the factory and be perfect but you can’t assume that will always be the case. It’s a delicate process but you have to clean the connectors every time.

Effective project execution, regardless of the technology, is all about process. We recorded the results around every connector and shared the information for quality control purposes. If there was an issue with a site at a later date we could demonstrate that the origin of the problem was not at the point of deployment. We also encouraged monitoring of the power levels and air conditioning for six months after we left, long enough to identify any bugs that we might need to fix.

This was a great project for 4site to demonstrate our ability to adapt to a myriad of technical requirements to ensure an excellent result for the client. In a fast-changing sector like telecoms, it shows that technical experience, combined with tried and tested project management skills, is proving to be our most valuable asset.

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