When your main interaction with technology is a mobile phone, it’s easy to forget that modern telecommunications infrastructure is essentially physical. It’s built on the wires, nodes and data centres that undergird the vast network that powers our devices.
In 1998, Pervis Conway was primarily involved with hybrid fibre coaxial, or HFC, cable, and has watched the industry transform over the past 17 years as the technical demands for drafting plans, surveying building sites, securing permits, engineering, project management and building information modeling, or BIM, services have become more and more complex.
And as CEO of Chicago-based CCS (Construction-CAD Solutions), Conway and his company have been providing turnkey network design, site survey and structured cabling solutions for telecommunications, cable and utility providers in the context of a telecommunications ecosystem that has seen total transformation.
These days, any new construction undertaken in most urban areas requires not just a blueprint for the design of walls and elevator shafts and parking garages, but also a plan for where the telecommunications infrastructure is going to go and how it interacts with the grid.
“You have right-of-ways, you have easements, you have permits, you have certain depths that underground cable has to be dug to, you have joint pole agreements between power companies, and someone has to do that research and determine the best route for you to take your fibre from A to B,” Conway tells me. “In the fibre industry, the more times you have to directional bore or drill pipe underground, the more money you’re going to spend, so people hire us to design their fibre network in the most cost-effective manner.”
Not many companies specialize in dealing with that type of planning and infrastructure design, which involves 3D modeling the actual physical design, detailing how new architecture will be connected to the larger ecosystem.
“Now companies, big companies, hospitals, major government facilities, colleges, are required to have their buildings 3D modeled. So there’s an expectation for all your disciplines, electrical, HVAC, and companies to provide their own input from a 3D standpoint as to where everything is going to go.”
Conway has seen his company grow from himself and one other employee working out of a Chicago apartment to a company with more than 100 employees thriving in multiple markets.
“When I started, fibre optics were in their infancy, and what cable companies were trying to do was leverage the speeds and the availability and potential of fibre, and coupling that with coaxial cable,” says Conway. “They were able to kind of improve their bandwidth speeds. Now what you’re seeing is that fibre prices are going down, you have fibre-exclusive companies developing and coming up. You also have your cable companies, which still have the infrastructure in place, but they’re slowly becoming more fibre-based. There was an 80-20 fibre ratio at some point, and now that ratio for fibre is starting to improve.”
“When you’re talking about being able to manage a fibre optic infrastructure, those are the things that we have to do with our research with the city and try to get an idea of how it’s actually done here.” – Construction-CAD Solutions CEO Pervis Conway
Recently, CCS has been actively working on expanding into Latin American markets, but Conway is also in Toronto during the recent Capacity Conference to meet with new clients in the Canadian market.
“We met with clients a few weeks ago, and we’ll be back in a few weeks to meet with those same clients, and we’re looking for office space here,” he says. “So it’s a go. We’re moving in.”
He mentions that he’s working with a local major telecom company, and a recent press release makes clear that CCS is providing BIM services for Swisslog, a healthcare solutions provider also operating in Canada.
The challenges for working with institutional healthcare projects are more complex than they ever have been, he says, necessitating the services of companies like his, not to mention that telecommunications infrastructure is getting ever more precise.
“It gets more challenging as more service providers and more providers build out their network, because it gets more saturated,” says Conway. “And as it gets more saturated, it heightens the need to know where your product and where your infrastructure is. One of the things I’m a big advocate of is GIS-GPS software (geographical information systems and global positioning systems). They’re accurate enough now where you’re getting sub-centimetre accuracy. So in my mind, if you’re going to build a network and inventory your network, shouldn’t you know exactly where it is, down to the sub-centimetre? You need that to be able to do maintenance on it, etc. Utilizing GIS-GPS has been prevalent in the gas industry. And it will behoove the telecom companies to start using it.”
As for the differences between building those networks in Canada vs. the United States, Conway is pragmatic.
“There are always regulatory challenges from state to state, city to city,” he says. “We’re just moving in to the area, so one of the things that we have to do is to get intimate with City Hall, with what the city requires. Particularly because in the downtown area, everything is underground. Everything is underground, and plus, you have the underground mall. So when you’re talking about being able to manage a fibre optic infrastructure, those are the things that we have to do with our research with the city and try to get an idea of how it’s actually done here.”