4 Items to Consider when Budgeting for Construction Wi-Fi Solutions
February 14, 2022

Introduction

Few things are more frustrating than trying to find additional budget for an unexpected expense. Overlooking budget considerations for construction site Wi-Fi networks is a trap that snares many Project Managers and their IT partners. 

Modern construction projects increasingly rely on cloud-based technology to capture real-time data on construction progress, material costs, labor, and to improve safety. As a result, project executives and IT teams are being asked to work more closely to ensure networks support teams in the field.   

Failing to include connectivity in the budget can leave IT and Finance teams scrambling to address unforeseen costs. A little advance planning can alleviate this. Attention to feasibility based on a site survey will help develop a bill of material for necessary equipment. Expecting change orders provides insight on resource costs. In the following, we highlight 4 items to consider when budgeting for your next construction site Wi-Fi solution.

1. Feasibility & Design, Site Survey

As in most feasibility studies, there is a bit of alchemy involved. You usually have some hard data but need to account for a number of unknowns. When planning for construction site Wi-Fi networks, the site survey typically begins by identifying the nearest source of fiber. If a traditional ISP has fiber close enough to the trailer, the solution may be straightforward. However, even on your average construction site, Wi-Fi isn’t easy. Burying cable is generally not an option when subsequent excavation and civil engineering is planned. 

ISP Qualification

ISP qualification involves understanding available service and contract terms. Sound contract management practices apply here and it’s important to understand any additional costs for moving fiber, early termination, and the need for additional infrastructure. 

Last Mile Considerations – Can we get reliable data to the jobsite?

For remote jobsites, constructing Wi-Fi networks can be a bit more complicated. Examples include data centers, infrastructure, and renewable energy projects that are often located in rural areas. Temporary cellular internet options will have the site connected right away and can also be a good “Plan B.” It will be important to identify which vendors can provide this service and how much it will this cost.

How will the network scale as the jobsite grows?

Construction jobsites grow through each phase of construction. For example, the elevation involved in high-rise building jobsites changes drastically between initial grading to when the foundation is dug, and even further as additional floors are constructed. Planning for scalability is critical to ensure Wi-Fi networks blanket the field of work with connectivity. 

2. Developing a Bill of Materials for Hardware

Field Connectivity Considerations

Developing a bill of materials for construction site Wi-Fi networks begins with what we call “field connectivity” considerations. These include the necessary equipment for the initial network and for scaling connectivity in subsequent construction phases as the jobsite grows. The second part of the equation is deciding whether to lease or buy equipment. For short-term or small projects, it may make sense to lease any equipment that you’ll only need for a few months. 

What Equipment is Necessary?

Construction site Wi-Fi solutions are comprised of wireless access points, managed routers, and may also include custom power kits or line-of-sight microwave antennas. In any event, networking equipment should be ruggedized for application on jobsites that are dirty, dusty, and inhospitable to sensitive electronics. For example, the DEWALT DCT100 has been beefed up to withstand the rigors of the jobsite and can be easily relocated with minimal risk of damaging the access point. 

For jobsites that lack available electric service or where construction is spread out over a large area, custom connectivity kits may be necessary. These kits combine solar power for remote access points, routers to extend a mesh network throughout the field of work, and are typically built with ruggedized Connex boxes to provide protection.

Remote, hard-to-reach jobsites present an additional challenge. Where traditional internet service providers are unavailable, construction site Wi-Fi solutions are built using microwave line-of-sight technology. One example is the Pike’s Peak Summit House Complex. The visitor center was constructed at the very top of Pike’s Peak and the network was built using point-to-point microwave radios. By distributing the incoming signal from the top of Pike’s Peak via wireless access points on the construction site, the tablets, iPads, and digital construction management tools had the access to the internet that they require to work properly and efficiently.

Will you buy or lease the equipment?

Lease v. buy is an age-old question, but the answer is not always cut and dry. Buying equipment makes sense for firms who either work on long-term projects, or who do a significant volume of short-term projects. One of the challenges with construction site Wi-Fi networking equipment is that it ages quickly. Most firms fully depreciate equipment in 5 years.

3. On-Site Implementation & Field Coordination

Onsite Implementation

Determining who will manage the installation and configuration of Wi-Fi networks on the jobsite is an important budget consideration. This may require corporate IT resources to travel to jobsites across a large geographic area (accounting for per diem meals, lodging, and travel is required). It’s easy to underestimate the need for strong onsite support, but the cry for help usually arises when field teams relocate cables, routers, printers, and other equipment. 

Network Support & Troubleshooting

Budgeting should include provisions for ongoing support for field teams after the initial installation of the network has been completed. The constant change involved with construction sites isn’t friendly to network equipment. If power gets cut off and routers don’t reboot, you’ll need to provide onsite support to keep Wi-Fi networks up and running.  

Handling Change Requests

Another element that comes into play with the constant changes to the physical layout of the jobsite is handling change requests. Additional access points will be required as the jobsite grows, and if the trailer city moves half-way through the project, the network will need to move with it. This will require resources and an accurate budget that accounts for the cost.    

4. Decommissioning Equipment at Project Completion

Networking equipment can be expensive. At project completion, inventorying assets will be important to determine which equipment has remaining useful life and can be used on subsequent projects. This involves disassembling, refurbishing, and storage of access points, solar kits, antennas, routers, etc. 

Another financial consideration is developing a system for managing ISP performance. This includes tracking contracts, terminations, and monitoring network reliability. Think about how you will do this across multiple jobsites. 

Conclusion

Wi-Fi networks are important to the project management and safety of the modern construction jobsite.  Budgeting best practices should include a site survey and feasibility study, a BOM for network equipment, provisions for troubleshooting, and ongoing support. 

Adequately anticipating the nuance involved as construction sites change throughout the life of the project will make your budget number more accurate. This is valuable in avoiding finger pointing between departments and can stave off the headaches associated with finding additional budget for unexpected expenses.