Field Mobility is Key to the Rural Connectivity Challenge

May 31st, 2024 by · Leave a Comment

This Industry Viewpoint was authored by James Wolfley, Telecom Customer Success Manager at IQGeo

As governments globally take action in implementing strategies, such as the USA’s Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program (BEAD), to ensure rural communities are served with strong, reliable network systems, it brings into discussion the importance of connectivity in a rapidly digitalized world. We only need to cast our minds back to the Coronavirus pandemic and the ‘work-from-home’ requirements to highlight how, in emergency scenarios, high-performance broadband connectivity becomes a lifeline. Even more so, as the world shifts its reliance from brick-and-mortar shops to online services, digital connectivity is an essential utility in the modern world.

To highlight the extremity of this problem, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an estimated 2.9 billion people still lack access to the internet.

Although governments are taking steps towards ensuring rural communities have access to high-speed broadband, it comes at a cost. In addition to the physical challenge of reaching remote areas with fiber, and not knowing what teams will face in the field, the ongoing maintenance of the network is key to a long-term high-quality broadband service.

Due to the complexity of installing such infrastructure in rural locations, it is vital that operators have a coherent plan that considers the entire network lifecycle. This will enable higher success rates and mitigate time-consuming and costly procedures. To do so, operators need to approach their teams with a strategic mindset, one that considers the skills, tools, and a holistic view of business objectives.

Empowering the Field Engineer

Providing broadband access and reliable connectivity in remote areas is not easy. Many efforts involve navigating difficult and unknown terrain, and even after a successful initial deployment, conducting multiple field visits to connect homes and resolve service issues can be very inefficient. Getting a specialist field worker in the right location, at the right time, and fixing the exact problem they’re trained to solve can be exceedingly difficult.

To prevent inefficiencies, operators need to empower their field teams to be multi-skilled and adept in dealing with the challenges that come with rural installations. Some of the most resilient network operators are building teams of workers who have a broad skillset rather than being vertically specialized.

By nurturing a field worker and supporting their development through a comprehensive training program, they are able to upskill across a diverse range of areas. In addition to this, when there is continual cross-collaboration between veteran team members and people newer to the industry, it creates a culture that fosters knowledge sharing. This approach means that workers can learn from each other’s experiences, old and new, and ultimately are better equipped to deal with an array of tasks.

A New Era in Rural Connectivity

While building teams of multi-skilled workers is an important step for rural operators, ensuring that they are set-up for success when they’re in the field is just as vital. Taking CAD drawings and spreadsheets to a site is an inefficient way of operating, particularly when they may not contain the information needed to address the task at hand. Teams must be supported by software that are not only built with mobility at their core but are easy and flexible enough to be understood by teams that are trained to execute a range of tasks.

Easily accessible software is also a major priority, particularly for those working in rural areas with unstable internet connection. By providing teams with software which works both online and offline, field workers will be able to continue doing their jobs without disruption. This allows them to simply sync their updates when a connection is restored and not waste time.

Furthermore, via mobile data collection tools, information in the field can be captured and stored in a shared network model, meaning all team members have access to network updates. This workflow can then be automated, freeing up valuable time for field teams to focus on important tasks.

Quality digital software provides field workers with a more intelligent view of the network, so they have the information they need to solve unexpected problems and proactively manage network issues. For example, a full network model gives the field crew the network location and connectivity to diagnose and troubleshoot problems without relying on office staff or having to make additional trips to gather information or collect the correct tools.

In addition to this, having the ability to create clear workflows for specific field activities, such as fiber connections, ensures that correct procedures are followed, and all essential data is collected. This not only proves useful from an operator’s perspective, but it also encourages field workers to use their initiative since they can be confident in their digital tools and the supporting infrastructure.

Providing a Solid Foundation

When it comes to bridging the rural connectivity divide, ensuring that teams are multi-skilled and that they have the right software to support them are incredibly important factors, but they should be considered as part of a broader digital strategy to successfully manage the entire fiber network lifecycle.

Implementing a system which allows teams to collaborate while providing one source of truth that can be accessed remotely and in any circumstance, provides operators with a solid foundation for efficient processes. It is far easier and more effective for teams – especially multi-skilled teams – to have an accurate view of the network model everywhere they go, with digital workflows that accelerate field operations.

Due to the complexity of rural connectivity and the associated challenges, underpinning all operations with a solid digital strategy will provide teams with the resources needed to face a range of circumstances. Easy to use and intelligent mobility software is the foundation for empowering field workers to provide results-driven operations.

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Categories: Engineering & Construction · Industry Viewpoint · Wireless

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