A common topic of conversation across the technology sector is the impact that skills shortages have on competitiveness, and how best to address the issue. With underground connectivity a relatively new development, it should come as no surprise that we also encounter similar challenges when working with transport networks around the world. This week our blog focuses on how to ensure teams have the right skillset when installing high-speed communications in metro rail environments.

Subterranean skillsets

Working in the rail sector, it’s common to encounter rules and regulations relating to the installation engineers that can be used on site. For instance, contractors must be recognised by the transport authority and approved to work in the rail sector. Moreover, sometimes they also need to be authorised by affiliated unions which can be advantageous as previously approved contractors know the underground environment and have an existing relationship with the transport authority.

However, while these contractors are highly professional and very experienced in electrical and mechanical installations, they often need to acquire new skills associated with telecom infrastructure deployment. These new skills are crucial as the coax cable and fibre used for high-speed wireless services require careful handling and precision fitting to avoid performance degradation. Even the smallest errors, like a kink in the cable or a loose connection, can seriously degrade performance and impact the user experience.

Qualifying your contractors

Finding contractors that both fulfil the criteria required for rail environments and possess the skillset required for installing next generation mobile communications networks can be challenging.

When BAI Canada, a BAI Communications company, installed cellular connectivity infrastructure in Toronto’s subway system, we used contractors recognised by both the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and local unions. Additionally, we coached and trained them on best practice telecom cable installation, including both initial training and regular refresher sessions.

Taking responsibility for engineer skills in this way can also help when facing issues like changes to timetables and reduced timelines. When Transit Wireless, a BAI Communications majority-owned company, was rolling out Wi-Fi and mobile coverage across the New York subway, the city brought the deadline for completion forward, shaving two years off the original schedule! Meeting the new deadline was challenging, requiring a doubling of the contractor workforce, the majority of whom had limited experience working with fibre.

In order to meet the completion deadline, without compromising quality, installation teams were structured to have a highly experienced team lead who directed contractor engineers with less experience in telecom cable installation. Utilising this approach meant the job was completed within the challenging new timeframe and to the high standard required.

The skills gap

With the UK government launching proposals for a dramatic improvement in on-board mobile and Wi-Fi connectivity, the demand for skilled telecom engineers is only going to increase. As a result, ensuring networks are installed correctly and on-time depends on transport authorities working with technology partners like BAI Communications that can take responsibility for upskilling and efficient resource management.

Read more

In this five-part series, we discuss the five challenges of building communications network in underground networks

  1. Part one: Dealing with dust
  2. Part two: Running complex projects without disrupting passengers
  3. Part three: Delivering communications in confined spaces
  4. Part four: Developing subterranean skill sets
  5. Part five: Aligning transport and telecom business models