Our People in Action – Head of TSQ

 

 

Jonathan Meyer, Sr. Director of our Training, Safety & Quality teams

Get to know Jonathan Meyer, Sr. Director of our Training, Safety & Quality team at Network Connex. He shares how he evolved into this role championing ongoing training and safe work practices for all Network Connex divisions and teams.

How long have you been with Network Connex?

I started with VERTICOM (now the Deployment South division at Network Connex) in 2017 as the Director of Training, Safety, and Quality and was promoted the Sr. Director of Training, Safety & Quality supporting all of Network Connex around 2021.

Tell us about your career path and what led you to your current role?

I started off in the telecom industry roughly 20 years ago as a technician installing two-way radios in utility vehicles, police cars, fire trucks and ambulances. I then started to work on two-way radio towers and did that for two to three years until I was introduced to a mutual friend who worked at a telecom company supporting T-Mobile. I’ve worked on many of the major carriers’ networks, installing new sites and upgrades for T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, Clear Wire and many others.

I worked for a smaller company many years ago where I wore multiple hats including responsibility for bidding jobs, building jobs, and training crew members. Around 2014 I started with an organization where my sole responsibilities were training, safety, and quality and I have been doing it ever since.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

Every day is a bit different, but I would say a typical day for me would involve:

  • Collaborating with different teams on current / upcoming projects.
  • Reviewing recent events across the organization and the industry to determine if additional training and or corrective actions are needed.
  • Creating / enhancing digital forms, policies, and procedures.
  • Mining data to showcase safety / training KPIs to upper management.

What characteristics do you think are needed to be successful in your role?

I believe being driven, versatile, and approachable are vital components to being successful in the Training, Safety and Quality department.

How do you like to spend your time outside of work?

I really enjoy spending time with family, cooking, comedy shows, off-roading, and going to concerts.

Our People in Action – Program Director

Laura Cockeram and her husband

 

Get to know Laura Cockeram, a Program Director on our Professional Services team, supporting fiber, wireless, and data center projects in California, Washington, Colorado, and Arizona. She shares how she arrived at this point in her career in telecom and and what it takes to help Network Connex customers be successful.

How long have you been with Network Connex?

I have been with Network Connex (formerly Synergy Engineering then Advantage Engineers) for 14 years. I’ve been working in the industry for 17 years.

Tell us about your career path and what led you to your current role?

I was a financial institution manager for ten years and after taking a break to stay home with my kids a friend of mine asked if I would be interested in trying something new since there was an opportunity with his employer. I started my journey in telecom as a part time employee and transitioned to full time and worked my way up. That was the beginning of my career in telecom. I’ve always enjoyed learning new things and being challenged. My capabilities were recognized, and I was continually given more responsibility and that advanced my career. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of the growth of our company from early on and I’m extremely grateful for a company that provides such great opportunities to employees.

What kinds of education or training have helped you be successful in your current job?

Everything I have learned and experienced on my telecom journey from my mentors and clients, my previous finance background, and the support I’ve had from colleagues, has helped me develop into my current role as a Director. My manager has always indulged my curiosity and taken the time to answer questions to teach me something new and at each stage of my development I acquired new skills to be successful:

  • Understanding the project’s scope of work, goals and deadlines are critical.
  • My experience in financial institutions instilled the importance of being detail oriented and organized for compliance with regulatory audits.
  • Communicating effectively and meeting client expectations is important. We need to earn trust from clients, so they are confident we can successfully manage their projects.
Laura quote on earning customers' repeat business

What characteristics do you think are needed to be successful in your role?

In my view you need a variety of characteristics to be a successful Director:

  • Strong communication skills—It’s critical to analyze the goals and requirements for a client and project and be able to clearly convey that to my team. I also want my team members to feel supported and comfortable reaching out to me.
  • Financial acumen—It’s important to understand the financial aspect of projects so we deliver for our clients within budget.
  • Leadership skills—As I’ve grown with the company, I’ve shared skills and experience I’ve acquired with my team. Leadership, training, and mentoring are important to keep our business progressing.
  • Recognizing and championing talent—I try to encourage and open paths for dedicated, knowledgeable, and hard-working employees to have opportunities for growth in our business.
  • Willingness to learn new things—As the industry evolves, we must be ready and eager to expand our knowledge so we can keep up with the changes.
  • Understanding the skillset and experience of each Project Manager—This is important so I can successfully pair Project Managers with clients and projects.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

My day starts out with a quick check in on Sitetracker and NetSuite to get a snapshot of projects. Then I turn my attention to emails received; I use a stacking method that allows me to quickly prioritize emails that need action to ensure timely responses. I set aside dedicated time each week to meet with my Project Managers individually giving each of them my undivided attention, outside of project or procedure meetings, for training, troubleshooting, finance support, or celebrating success. The middle of my day varies day to day. There’s usually a project that is either high priority or fast moving so my attention will be pulled there for extra support, strategizing, or troubleshooting.

For new clients, I join early deployment calls to make sure we are managing their project to their satisfaction. This helps me support the Project Managers by understanding firsthand what the client’s expectations are and ensure we are set up to meet their needs. I also want the clients to be comfortable reaching out to me directly even if I’m not the person they deal with on a day-to-day basis. I am usually in communication with my VP, other Directors, or Program Managers to sync up on projects and workloads with other departments so I can communicate that to Project Managers and forecast resource availability accurately. This ensures timeline expectations for tasks or deliverables are understood by all. It also allows me to re-prioritize based on project urgency and client deadlines, so every client’s project has forward momentum, hits milestones, and receives deliverables on time.

What do you love most about what you do?

My favorite part of my job is the variety. The variety of work, and even challenges that arise, keep me on my toes and there’s never a dull day. Our group is full of motivated and hard-working individuals who support each other. I’ve had wonderful mentors on my journey and prioritize giving that same level of support to my team.

Laura Cockeram and her husband enjoying an LA Kings game

How do you like to spend your time outside of work?

My family are big hockey fans, so we spend a lot of time at Crypto Arena for Los Angeles Kings games. I also like attending concerts, snowboarding, and hiking. Spending time with family is also very important to me. I’ve recently taken up gardening so I’m trying to keep fruits and veggies alive. It’s too soon to tell if my garden is a success but it’s looking pretty good so far.

Tell us a fun or surprising fact about you!

We have season seats for the Los Angeles Kings and were lucky enough to see them win the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014 on home ice. It was amazing! My husband and I are embarking on an NHL stadium tour to watch the Kings play on the road. It will take several years to visit all the NHL arenas, but we’ve knocked 6 off the list. So far Bridgestone Arena in Nashville has been my favorite.

 

3 Barriers to Building a Dark Fiber Network

HELP CUSTOMERS GET THE MOST FROM THIS BURIED TREASURE

By Jacob Guthridge, NTI Project Manager and Greg Spraetz, CRO

Today, AI and machine learning are more than innovations, they are voracious bandwidth consumers that push the performance boundaries of the infrastructures that support them.

Hyperscale cloud providers and network carriers are under pressure to provide the high-bandwidth, low-latency connections their customers need to get the most from these technologies. In response they’re leveraging dark fiber networks as an alternative to purchasing lit strands from carriers, as they’ve done in past.

Growth figures reflect this shift and the revenue opportunities for dark fiber providers. In 2022, the global dark fiber market was estimated to be USD 6.14 billion. By 2032, it’s projected to rise to 20.95 billion.

Bryan McCombs of Critical Infrastructure Partners (CIP), a dark fiber provider, agrees there is a staggering demand for it, with more underground fiber being put into the ground now than ever before.

“Dark fiber is the ideal solution for dealing with massive amounts of data that has to traverse between two or more sites,” he says. “It’s the absolute gold standard for delivering the low-latency solutions hyperscalers and carriers need.”

Reels of cable and conduit prepped at a construction site for laying underground fiber network

Dark fiber network benefits and barriers

As a dedicated connection, dark fiber is more reliable because customers no longer have to compete for bandwidth or capacity. It also offers more control and security, since customers manage it end-to-end on their own.

Although Data Center Post called dark fiber a “hidden gem” and the optimal choice for transporting the complex, intensive workloads of AI and machine learning, there are barriers to delivering that value.

For dark fiber providers, these include designing intelligent and diverse fiber routes for data to travel, dealing with rocky terrains and gaining right of way (ROW) permissions to pass through properties owned by others.

Based on our experience, the three barriers below represent the toughest hurdles in delivering dark fiber connectivity today.

Multiple pathways and parties

If you want to use dark fiber to make the metro or long-haul site-to-site connections your customers need, the most prohibitive factors can be dealing with the multiple different entities, service providers, and physically separate pathways along the way.

It’s not as simple as connecting point A and point B when there are existing overlapping networks and multiple landowners between them. It takes experience and out-of-the-box thinking to navigate those complexities.

That’s why it’s a good idea to start with a feasibility study of the proposed route to evaluate how the network infrastructure has been laid out in the area, as well as the parties involved in granting ROW access.

You may learn that you can run fiber down the median of an interstate where there’s much less rock or map a route that avoids railroad crossings and waterways. You may also be able to choose a path that minimizes the entities who need to grant permits.

By streamlining the design, engineering, and permitting processes, we can help you find the shortest pathway with the fewest roadblocks to reduce capital outlay and implementation time.

Construction equipment and labor shortages

Like any fiber network construction project you undertake, you’ll be challenged with managing the logistics of having everything you need delivered on time. Those difficulties are compounded today by the lack of available trenching, boring, and plowing equipment and the trained workers needed to operate them.

This is especially true in hard-rock environments, like the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Starting in the fourth quarter of this year, Network Connex will be working with CIP on the Blue Ridge Run Network, a low-latency route spanning 767 miles to bring fiber broadband closer to rural communities in the Southeast region. 

“The biggest challenge for us in underground fiber construction is where we’re building,” says McCombs. “It’s largely an all-rock environment, which is very expensive, labor-intensive and time consuming. There’s also limited equipment and operators that work in that medium.”

Network Connex is supporting CIP with feasibility studies, fiber engineering, permitting services, and construction for the Blue Ridge Run Network.

On these and other rugged terrain projects, we use a recently introduced specialty tool to install conduit systems. Called an all-terrain directional drill, the AT120 features the largest inner rod produced to date. Currently, there are only a few of these game-changing machines on the East coast and Network Connex has one of them.

OSP fiber technician locates and places fiber optic cabling

Resource demands during and beyond the build

To ensure the build aligns with the agreed-upon design standards and scope of work, you’ll need eyes onsite along the entire construction route.

Once the fiber is lit and operational, customers will expect regular, on-going route maintenance and management, including quick resolution for any service disruptions. For long-distance dark fiber routes, accidents can occur anywhere along the path, calling for emergency teams to quickly be dispatched to the site to restore connectivity.

Beyond on-going maintenance and crisis management, there can be unforeseen factors that cause additional work for you along the fiber route. Whether it’s the Department of Transportation coming in to widen the road, or a developer coming in to modify the land and add utilities for a new data center build, these new developments can trigger a need for adjustments to the fiber route.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as just moving your cable a foot deeper. Other times, it means building an entirely new conduit pathway and doing a hot cut to transition network traffic to the new cable, which can be a complex and costly relocation project.

Breaking through the barriers

Whether it’s dealing with design, site selection, ROW access, rocky environments, routine maintenance, or recovery services, Network Connex can help you break through barriers to make the most of a dark fiber build.

As a trusted partner to CIP, our services help them get to market faster with the connectivity solutions their customers need.

“For us, Network Connex conducts feasibility studies to identify roadblocks and advises how to mitigate them. From there, they help us with all aspects of a project, from the engineering and permitting process to land use and the right of way agreements needed to make it all happen,” says McCombs. “Their soup-to-nuts approach is a rare thing to find in this industry.”

Find out more about how our fiber design, engineering, construction, and restoration services can help you meet the needs of your customers.

High Level Network Planning for Fiber Route Success

HIGH-LEVEL DESIGN AS THE FIRST STAGE IN NETWORK PLANNING CAN PREPARE YOU FOR REGULATORY, GEOPHYSICAL, AND DESIGN challenges PRIOR TO FIBER DEPLOYMENT

By Jay O’Neill, Fiber Program Director, Network Connex, March 20, 2024.

The demand for faster and more reliable broadband internet service continues to grow, driving a market expected to reach $USD18 billion by 2028. US government programs to bring broadband internet to millions of underserved American communities will only add to those demands all at a time when delivering those services is more costly and complex than ever.

 

The key to delivering that connectivity is high-capacity, high-performing fiber optic cable routes. Partnering with a recognized expert in fiber network services for careful network planning in pre-deployment phases can make the difference between a successful implementation and a frustrating series of change orders, cost overruns, and project delays.

Dealing with multiple terrains and environments

Whether man-made or natural, the physical challenges involved in installing fiber networks add layers of complexity to each project. Fiber providers building a new route have to consider bridges and highway crossings, regulatory compliance, and natural barriers.

When placing underground fiber, the complexities multiply. For example, metro areas like Chicago or New York are among the most difficult places to engineer underground fiber. A large volume of cabling and existing vaults with limited capacity may challenge logical route design. ROW and permitting challenges can also vary widely from urban to exurban areas.

Difficulties extend to rural areas, which pose their own set of challenges. Building or extending fiber networks through mountains, valleys, deserts, or forests means creating aerial or underground solutions for each environment. High-level design can identify logical fiber routes to minimize the cost and impact of geographic challenges.

Delivering internet for all

42 million Americans have no access to broadband internet, especially in rural areas that are either underserved or unserved. Government programs such as the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program are committed to connecting more people to the internet and ensuring minimum speeds.

Working against the clock

As funds are awarded, recipients need to know all the challenges lurking in a new fiber build. Including a high-level design engagement in network planning helps evaluate risks and conditions that could affect timeline and budget so customers can prepare for success.

Upfront planning that includes GIS data and Right of Way (ROW) research can uncover ways to streamline the permitting process, cutting the time and cost of construction.

Reducing latency over the long haul

Low latency is a critical requirement whether connecting data centers or bringing the internet to sparsely populated areas. Long-haul fiber routes can cover distances over 60 miles, but the more fiber you install, the more potential for signal delay.

To minimize latency, fiber network designers factor in geographical and regulatory barriers to find the shortest route between connection points. They also consider the best locations for fiber splices to create a continuous communication pathway.

Design and engineering services to the rescue

In addition to GIS and ROW research, we conduct feasibility studies that include potential route maps and site surveys to suggest the best approach to reduce latency on the routes.

Engineer working on computer with drawings and data

Upfront planning pays off

When asked by the Fiber Broadband Association how deployment costs had changed from 2022 to 2023, 79 percent of industry professionals reported that costs had increased by at least 10 percent. Rising prices means that understanding and optimizing the cost of building fiber networks is more crucial than ever.

Determining a realistic scope and budget

As part of our high-level design service, we do a thorough analysis of the project to calculate the effort and cost involved. This ROI estimation process occurs early in the project lifecycle and serves as a strategic planning guide.

For example, there is a large cost difference between aerial and underground fiber deployments, with underground installations costing more than double that of aerial deployments. Knowing where to use each gives you more visibility and control over the budget.

The power of pilots

Once deployment has begun, no one wants to discover problems that will reverberate across the entire implementation. When customers partner with Network Connex to build a fiber route, we often recommend starting a project with a small pilot. This helps to avoid delays and penalties, sets correct expectations, and builds confidence in the project right from the start.

Value engineering delivers true success

The most successful projects deliver value beyond the expected scope of work. A high-level fiber design provides a roadmap for meeting your goals, whether you measure success by network miles or number of subscribers.

For long haul or middle-mile fiber design, Network Connex’s value engineering approach helps your budget go as far as possible. Our experts work collaboratively with each other, and as an extension of your team, to deliver a successful fiber deployment.

Learn more about how our full suite of fiber network services—including high-level fiber design—can help you deploy a successful fiber route.

4 Digital Infrastructure Build Out Trends to Know About Now

AI, supply chains, space and labor shortages all present challenges for digital infrastructure installations 

By Dom Arrigo, Vice President, Data Center Operations, National Technologies (NTI), a Network Connex company, February 1, 2024.

Whether it’s the sky-rocketing growth of artificial intelligence (AI), the shrinking availability of data center space, a tight labor market, or continuing materials shortages, data center build out projects will face significant challenges this year.

The coming months will call for unprecedented changes in the digital infrastructure. The focus will be on untangling kinks in the supply chain and gaining the agility to place data centers—and the teams to connect them—when and where they’re needed. And the goal will be to speed build out times for data center deployments in both inside plant (ISP) and outside plant (OSP) environments.

AI and GenAI are transforming the data center infrastructure

AI spending has taken a giant leap. The potential of AI is enormous, but so is the pressure it puts on data center operators. As customer demand for this technology increases, global spending in the AI infrastructure market is expected to grow as much as 44 percent by 2029.1

While AI can reduce human errors, automate repetitive processes and lead to faster analysis and decision making, the resource-guzzling dataloads involved in doing so elevate the need for more computing power, capacity, connectivity, and space. But it’s not only about greater demands, it’s about different demands.

An entirely different architectural approach is taking root. In the AI-optimized data center, the architecture is different, the infrastructure requirements are different, and the layout is different. These differences will magnify as GenAI takes off. While AI focuses on automating human tasks, this next generation of AI focuses on mimicking human-created content. GenAI tools, like ChatGPT, can create human-like conversations with a website chatbot or even write a blog. (Not this one!)

Whether the transition involves removing legacy equipment, or densifying by adding new equipment that requires more cabling, racks, cabinets or space, we can adapt our data center fit out services to support your AI initiatives.

Data center fit out showing racks, overhead conveyance, cable tray and other components.

Data center space shortages are pushing construction into new markets

Data Center Frontier’s Rich Miller says the AI boom, coupled with other hyperscale users gobbling up most of the capacity in development, is creating a data center space crunch in many major markets.2 With as much as a four-year lead time from design to build, data center operators can’t build out facilities fast enough to keep up with the demand.

Customers are cutting loose from geographic constraints. Whether deploying their own data centers or considering colocation, customers are looking beyond these primary data center markets to submarkets across the US.

Companies such as Amazon have already put a nationwide distribution strategy into play by constantly evaluating new locations, based on customer demand. In January alone, the company was cleared to build two new data centers, one in Mesa, Arizona and another in Round Rock, Texas.3

While some data center fit out providers focus on a single local area or region, our presence across the US means we can help customers scale their implementations with the same quality and speed on a national level.

The need for nationwide connectivity is growing. Extending connectivity between these distributed data centers is the next challenge. With crews deployed across the country, we can lay and connect fiber both inside and outside the data center.

For example, we’re currently running fiber optic cables hundreds of miles to connect data centers for one of our customers. Our ability to handle both inside plant (ISP) and outside plant (OSP) environments is a differentiator for us.

Modular designs and prefab components are speeding deployments. Working with prefabricated infrastructure components is quickly growing as a tactic for bringing capacity online faster and more economically. Prefabricated modular design cuts construction times, reduces costs, and improves safety, quality, and sustainability since more work occurs in controlled manufacturing settings.4

Pre-packaged power rooms and cooling equipment are examples of these more flexible installations. They arrive onsite, pre-built with all the options you want, ready to be plugged in and turned on. We can connect modules to an existing campus network or finish off internal installation and connectivity.

We build remotely, as well. For example, we install electrical components, patch panels, and fiber boxes in a cabinet located in our warehouse. Then, we wheel it fully loaded into your data center. This process calls for two people onsite, rather than 12 technicians installing separate components. We’re currently expanding our pre-fabrication capabilities to accelerate data center fit out projects.

Supply chain problems are jeopardizing materials availability

Shortages are expected to continue. When Covid hit, shutting down supply lines from overseas manufacturers, the raw materials needed for data center construction became scarce. Even though data center operators and hyperscale cloud providers were always under pressure to get raw materials from US suppliers, they were unable to buy everything required in this country.

It was also a challenge to keep core transportation systems operational with a skeleton workforce and truck driver shortages that immobilized the global supply chain.

Today, this convoluted set of supply chain circumstances continues. In fact, one research study found that over 75 percent of organizations reported disruptions of some type over the last 18 months. 5

Supplier relationships are more important than ever. Over the years, we’ve developed strong manufacturer and partner relationships. This close collaboration gives us more leverage to prioritize distribution where and when materials are needed the most.

Local logistics and warehousing are increasing availability. Data center fit out providers are taking advantage of local warehousing options to store products closer to end users. Our nationwide footprint enables us to negotiate logistics with local manufacturing and distribution partners. This leads to more efficient purchasing and delivery, as well as the room to stage materials in lay down yards for just-in-time delivery to the project site.

Agile installation teams are becoming more critical to meeting construction deadlines

While skilled talent challenges aren’t new to the data center industry, the shift into submarkets exacerbates the impact. There’s a shortage of skilled technicians in a lot of these locations. Our reputation as a quality provider, a good employer, and a union partner enables us to secure skilled labor more easily than other companies,  whether you need data center installations in major markets or remote sites.

We also provide a single point of responsibility that simplifies distributed data center construction projects. We can begin by assisting in data center design, drawing on our years of problem-solving experience with other installations. Once the build out is completed, we can provide Day 2 operations support for ongoing network maintenance and management.

Navigating change

These trends represent absolute game changers: it’s like living in an industrial revolution on steroids. Every one of them presents an opportunity for us and for the industry as a whole. It’s a chance to look at what’s ahead, collectively move towards better solutions and to do so with a sustainable approach that rolls with change. We’re here to help you make the most of those changes.

Find out more about our data center deployment services or contact us.

 

References:

1 Angus Loten, ”AI-Ready Data Centers Are Poised for Fast Growth,” Wall Street Journal, August, 2023. https://www.wsj.com/articles/ai-ready-data-centers-are-poised-for-fast-growth-fadae952

2 Rich Miller, “The Eight Themes That Will Shape the Data Center Industry in 2024,” Data Center Frontier, January, 2024. https://www.datacenterfrontier.com/machine-learning/article/33016915/the-eight-themes-that-will-shape-the-data-center-industry-in-2024

3 Dan Swinhoe, “Amazon Granted Zoning Permission for Data Center & Distribution Site in Round Rock, Texas”, Data Center Dynamics, January, 2024.

https://www.datacenterdynamics.com/en/news/amazon-granted-zoning-permission-for-data-center-distribution-site-in-round-rock-texas

4 Bill Kleyman, “Catching Up With Data Center Construction Constraints,” Data Center Knowledge, March, 2023. https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/buildconstruction/catching-data-center-construction-constraints

5 Miya Knights, “Overcoming Data Center Construction Supply Chain Issues,” Data Center Dynamics, June 15, 2023.

https://www.datacenterdynamics.com/en/analysis/overcoming-data-center-construction-supply-chain-issues/