Cell site riggers say job is becoming more complex

Bringing riggers back to earth: new base station testing equipment can reduce complexity, speed up workflows and keep riggers safer.

By Kashif Hussain

A new study from Viavi, a network testing and measurement company, shows that with the increasing complexity of wireless networks comes increased complexity of the role that the rigger is expected to carry out. In fact, Viavi has revealed that 67% of UK Riggers believe that their job is becoming more complex, with over three-quarters (78%) believing that between 20-50% more time is now needed to carry out testing.

Increasing complexity of the role

Put simply, a rigger is employed to make sure everything from the bottom of the feeder to the top of the antennae is in perfect working order and, if not, any issues and/or problems are ironed out. Riggers carry out specialist – and often dangerous –  projects with highly skilled teams for the mobile telecommunications industry. As the telecoms industry evolves, riggers are now becoming increasingly involved with the roll-out of 4G services.

67% of UK Riggers believe that their job is becoming more complex, with over three-quarters (78%) believing that between 20-50% more time is now needed to carry out testing

Each day, their role can involve a multitude of tasks such as installation, commissioning and decommissioning, as well as dismantling and removing equipment from great heights (such as masts, towers, rooftops and pylons). They are also involved in the earthing, labelling, testing of feeder cables and optical fiber, the inspection and testing of ODUs, Splitters and IDUs and the CPN testing and auditing of rigging installation.

Carrying a heavy load

This can mean that on a typical day, a rigger can carry up to 20 instruments. These can range from a supply of hand tools (i.e. spanners, hammers, tape), a maya measurement tool, a body harness, lanyards and a pole belt, most of which are often cumbersome and heavy. On top of this, a rigger needs to have the relevant testing equipment to hand. 36% of Riggers agreed that having test equipment that enables good workflow is important. However, there are further issues that contribute to longer testing times, in the form of increasing tower climbs.

Safety concerns

As the role includes the documentation of equipment on towers, much of the job of a Rigger is conducted at height, which can involve a number of tower climbs, and there’s a risk of injury from falls. 44% of respondents think that it has become fairly costly, complex and dangerous to carry out testing at the top of a cell tower. Many base stations models have been fundamentally changed by Fiber to the Antenna (FTTA) which use a distributed architecture.

44% of respondents think that it has become fairly costly, complex and dangerous to carry out testing at the top of a cell tower

Putting in place a remote radio head (RRH), they use a fibre feed to sync with the base band unit which is placed at the base of the tower. The placement of the RRH at the top of a cell tower throws up its own safety issues from an installation point of view, ranging from an increase in tower climbs and safety concerns. Almost half of the riggers surveyed (42%) stated that having lighter and easier to use equipment is important to make tower climbs less cumbersome.

The riggers surveyed also highlighted that they would benefit from companies providing equipment that performs multiple test simultaneously (18%); access to good, easy to use test equipment (18%) and access to reports that are easily and readily available (18%) are vital to the role. Test and measurement methods that use Common Public Radio Interface (CPRI) or Open Base Station Architecture Initiative (OBSAI) protocols can capture and analyse RF metrics whether front-haul is coax or fiber-based.

Current testing methods for that setup require a tower climb, but instruments with RF over CPRI (RFoCPRI) can be plugged into the BBU at the base of the tower, allowing engineers to get all the access to the RF signals and the spectrum from the bottom of the base station, without having to climb the tower.

New technology to address their needs

The research and development companies are conducting to improve equipment is changing the role of the rigger for the better. The job will always remain specialist with an element of complexity, especially with continuous technological advancements and the rigger’s key part in performing the necessary roll outs. However, new technology is playing a part in addressing safety and complexity concerns, with equipment being introduced that enables riggers to perform vitally important tests from the safety of the ground, reducing the time they spend at great heights.

Kashif Hussain is CellAdvisor Solutions Marketing at Viavi Solutions.

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