Employee Story: Bridging the gap between on-site surveys and digital design

by Michael ‘Rusty’ O’Sullivan, Fibre Planner & Survey Co-ordinator

Survey, consenting and wayleaving for SIRO

I was lucky enough to join 4site at a time when the company was embarking on ground-breaking national infrastructure projects, first in Ireland and then in the UK. As part of SIRO I was on the ground in Kilkenny, the first contract we won, working out wayleaves and digging into the nitty-gritty of delivering FTTB (Fibre To The Building).

The ESB/Vodafone joint venture is all about leveraging ESB’s existing infrastructure but at the point where the clusters of fibre and cabinets connect to people’s home there is important work to be done.  When you’re responsible for the survey and design elements of connecting 15,000 buildings a month, you can be sure that the wayleave work alone will keep you busy. And when you win more contracts in Dublin and Athlone you start to build up a lot of practical expertise.

Knocking on doors, asking for permission to cross people’s property may sound like a mundane part of a high-tech project, but it’s amazing what you learn.

Working on CityFibre, one of the biggest fibre roll outs in the UK

Several months later I was working over in the UK, flitting between Huddersfield and Coventry where we had won a contract with CityFibre, the UK’s largest alternative provider of wholesale fibre network infrastructure. My job was to manage a team of surveyors and designers, but I was still doing the legwork.

What you discover very quickly is that something that just takes a few clicks in desktop design software doesn’t necessarily work in the real world. Only by visiting dense housing estates do you appreciate that the devil’s in the detail when it comes to where to put the cabinet or the best place on a building façade to run off multiple connections.

Experience counts

When you are working on a pioneering fibre project you are always going to get better as you go along.  You will get more efficient and exact in understanding the requirements; you build up levels of expertise by going out there and literally seeing the lay of the land. There’s no shortcut to practical experience. The upshot is that when we started out with FTTP in Ireland we were helping connect 15,000 homes a month – that’s now rising towards 30,000.

4site fibre planners

Of course, it’s not all shoe leather. Specialist apps are the tools of my trade. At 4site we use QGIS, the open Source Geographic Information System, in combination with our own mobile app accessed over tablets. CityFibre has plug-in software we use with QGIS to help automate the design process, but there’s really no shortcut to identifying where to put a cabinet or use a trench.

The on-site experience makes it easier to visualise flows that I bring back and discuss with the design team in the office. You find the locations and cluster the cabinets and connections as best you can. The goal is to design optimised fibre connectivity that can be delivered in the most cost-effective way.

Switching roles from surveyor to designer

Now my role in the company has switched. I’m part of the design team, based in Limerick, spending most of my time sitting at a computer. All that on-the-ground practical experience has helped me go on to become one of the main designers, but there’s no doubt that the physical experience of site surveying stays with you. I can see potential pitfalls and come up with a solution much quicker than I could if I was totally reliant on the software.

4site fibre designersI’ve been on the physical and software side of survey and design and like to think I bring the same skillsets to both. I love problem solving, the constant puzzle of trying to figure out the best way of delivering the requirement for clients and their customers.  Looks like I’m in the right place at the right time.

If you think you would suit the 4site culture, contact us now. (even if there are no obvious open roles, we want to talk to any analytical problem solvers interested in an engineering job!)

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