Ericsson lifts 5G builds with tower investments

LOS ANGELES—The tower business isn’t always the first thing associated with Ericsson, but it was front and center at the company’s booth during Mobile World Congress Los Angeles this week.

The booth featured a partial tower structure replete with various antennas hanging from the top and bona fide tower climbers wearing their protective work gear. The demo was meant to bring attention to the work Ericsson is doing in towers; the company employs more than 600 tower climbers in addition to other field teams to support its customers, working with companies like Crown Castle.  

In fact, Ericsson operates five Centers of Excellence located in Concord, California; Lewisville, Texas; Suwanee, Georgia; Bolingbrook, Illinois; and Piscataway, New Jersey. The facility in Lewisville is the newest and the largest; it’s more than 26,000 square feet. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr was on hand when that center opened earlier this year.

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It's been a concerted effort at the company to grow its ranks. By the end of this year, Ericsson will have hundreds of new climbers ready to make a significant dent in the backlog of crews that are needed to deploy 5G equipment, according to Ericsson’s Paul Challoner, VP of network product solutions. After zoning permits are obtained, often the next big impediment to rolling out 5G equipment is having the skilled workers to do it.

It’s a very specific skill and a demanding job, requiring workers to wear heavy gear while they climb sometimes hundreds of feet into the air risking their lives. Ericsson is a member of the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE). 

Ericsson has employed internal tower climbers for a number of years, but in the past three+ years, it has expanded greatly in the build space, which refers to putting in new equipment where there wasn’t any previously, according to Steve Clinton, network build and operator manager, who was hosting guests at the booth. 

Newer to the scene are drones used in both construction and maintenance efforts, with machine learning also part of efforts to improve safety and service.

Whereas in the past Ericsson would rely on others to provide information about what’s already on an existing tower, the accuracy of which was iffy, it can now send a single crew member out with a drone to get the data and a clearer picture of what’s on a tower before they climb. And that’s been a big advantage.