Wireless Solves Contractor's Communications Needs

By Randy Whitmore | September 28, 2010

With several high-profile construction projects under way at any given time, the 500-plus employees of Birmingham, Ala.-based Saiia Construction have little time to worry about dropped phone calls, bad reception or busy networks when making deadline-driven decisions in the field. The company generates approximately $100 million in revenue annually, and good communication is central to Saiia Construction's reputation as a responsive and collaborative company that must meet tight deadlines.

For Saiia Construction's managers and their crews, exchanging information in real-time is one of the most critical components in delivering large grading and site-preparation projects on time and within budget — especially for major projects on fast-track schedules.

"In a construction company, the patience level is very low," said Matt Moon, who oversees communications contracts for Saiia Construction. "We must have the ability to communicate vast amounts of information quickly and reliably in the field to make sure our projects are finished when we say they will be finished."

With several projects in progress at the same time, it is essential for crew managers and staff to stay connected to keep jobs on track. Previously, crews relied on a mix of pagers, cell phones and two-way radios to communicate. But as the company grew and took on larger projects, executives at Saiia realized the need for an integrated communications system so all employees would be on the same network.

"It's hard to imagine that we used to rely on beepers, where you literally had to get in your truck, drive to a pay phone in the middle of nowhere and drop a dime to exchange information essential to the project at hand," recounted Moon. "We thought the convenience problem would be solved when we moved to cell phones, but the field personnel found them to be very unreliable in rural areas where we were doing a lot of our work."

Moon said the field crews then switched to commercial two-way radios, which often are used among various mobile professionals such as truck drivers or taxi dispatchers. While the commercial two-way radios allowed for instant communication and eliminated dropped calls or busy networks, many at Saiia Construction were unhappy about broadcasting potentially proprietary information over public airwaves. Additionally, everyone on the fleet had to endure constant conversations between colleagues, which made it clear that it was time for a new solution.

To solve the problem, Saiia Construction introduced SouthernLINC Wireless service to its field crew about 10 years ago, and according to Moon the company hasn't looked back.

SouthernLINC Wireless was founded in 1996 and was designed to meet the communications needs of Southern Company's electric utilities including Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power, and Mississippi Power. SouthernLINC Wireless added redundancies and extra security features when building its wireless network to ensure that power company employees would have a reliable way to communicate with each other out in the field — especially in severe weather.

Furthermore, SouthernLINC Wireless' network was built to function in remote areas, which national wireless carriers often do not serve. Using Motorola's iDEN (Integrated Digital Enhanced Network) technology that offers instant communications, SouthernLINC Wireless combines two-way radio, phone service, paging, and wireless Internet and data access in one hand-held device.

It was clear that Saiia Construction's communications needs mirrored those of SouthernLINC Wireless' parent company, Southern Company, as both require a reliable and private way to connect instantly with employees in urban and rural areas and during severe weather conditions.

According to Moon, SouthernLINC Wireless has improved communication for Saiia Construction in several ways. He notes that instant communication over a large area, particularly from the rural locations where many of the company's projects are located, "allows us to do the best job for our clients and complete their jobs on time," he says. "In this business, every minute counts when it comes to finishing projects on schedule."

"Most jobs we have are in rural locations that aren't covered by any other major carrier. SouthernLINC Wireless covers such a large footprint, and does it so well. That is a major benefit for us."

Durability is another concern, and Moon has found the system to be able to stand up to the rigors of the construction environment.

"We need handsets that fit the environment in which we work because we really beat our phones up," he says. "We need strong, rugged units that won't break or have other issues out in the field.

"Our vice president of operations asks me almost every month, 'How much does this service cost, again?'" Moon adds. "When I tell him, he just shakes his head and says, 'These things pay for themselves every single day.' He's still amazed by how good and affordable they really are to our day-to-day operations."

Author Information
Randy Whitmore is SouthernLINC Wireless' construction segment manager.