Railway Strategies Magazine November 2012

Communicating the Benefits

As the UK rail industry looks to update its telecommunications capabilities, ADComms offers its expertise

As the way the world communicates changes, the uptake and application of telecommunications technology has seen massive expansion in recent years, with industry increasingly looking to leverage its benefits. For over 20 years, ADComms has been at the forefront of telecoms infrastructure solutions, having started life developing and building networks for the mobile phone operators through the 1990s and 2000s. Today the company concentrates on rail telecoms infrastructure carrying out many aspects of telecoms working across both fixed and wireless infrastructure.

During the 1990s ADComms became one of the first companies to design and develop a containerised model as part of the Ericsson Group. The model essentially involved fitting out units in a production environment with telecoms equipment for subsequent network deployment. Utilising this method, the company installed over 14,000 units up and down the UK for the mobile operators.

This model became a very important product for Network Rail as it sought to roll out its Fixed Telecommunications Network (FTN) and Global System for Mobile Communications – Railway (GSM-R) programme. “The concept of completing as much as possible in a production environment before the unit is deployed clearly does a lot to save time on site, and to improve quality and safety by minimising time alongside the track,” notes Jason Pearce, managing director of ADComms Communications. “The REB, as it is known, is a model we developed in conjunction with Network Rail and which became the default product for the GSM-R/FTN roll-out. We have built over 2300 of these units in our facility, and they are now currently being implemented on the UK Network Rail telecoms infrastructure. Following civils installation, ADComms has a key role in commissioning these units on to the network. That makes perfect sense to us, as no one knows the REBs as well as our engineers.”

Having operated as part of the ADComms Group since 2003, the company began trading as ADComms when it came under new ownership at the end of 2011. What hasn’t changed are the strengths and capabilities that ADComms has honed over the years: “Telecoms is a rapidly changing market and there’s a lot of equipment being deployed, upgraded, and maintained. Getting this done successfully and with minimum risk to the infrastructure comes down to the best engineers who are skilled and have an intimate knowledge of the product. As such our key asset is our people, and the fact that they consistently deliver to those key customer needs of time, quality, cost and importantly safety,” describes Jason.

“In comparison to the rail sector, telecoms is a relatively new market but we’re seeing the rail industry now starting to use the advances that technology can bring to its network. A lot of the telecoms infrastructure that we are now seeing deployed in rail, the mobile phone operators have already been through over the last 20- 30 years. The natural step is the commercialisation of what is a significant telecoms asset and indeed we watch with interest the development of the new rail organization NRT. In the meantime the deployment continues, and the mobile operator experience we have makes it really exciting for companies like ADComms. The engineers carrying out the work now for the UK rail market are the same individuals that did the equivalent for the mobile phone operators, and so they bring a tremendous amount of telecoms experience to the rail industry,” he continues.

The company’s work on the introduction of GSM-R is just one example of its skills set within both fixed line and radio frequency (RF) telecommunications. As well as the design, installation, and commissioning of these systems, ADComms is increasingly involved in applying this expertise to the large signalling and synergy schemes across the UK. “We are constantly developing our offering so that we are able to offer our clients a more efficient service. Our engineers do go that extra mile and look for ways to complete things smarter. At the same time we are widening our scope and bringing in new skills such as RF planning, rapid coverage solutions, operational telecoms, and signalling schemes. This is all helping to develop our position within the marketplace as a provider of rail telecoms infrastructure. Importantly it is also about helping the rail industry understand the capability telecoms can bring to the UK rail network,” describes Jason.

Innovative solutions

The development of innovative solutions for its clients is nothing new for ADComms Communications. The containerised REB is a good example of this, but overall the company is working to ensure that its engineers are right at the forefront of delivering works more efficiently; lowering costs, whilst maintaining quality and safety. This is perhaps particularly important for an industry such as rail which has a much longer perspective than many, and could be perceived as being at odds with the fast-moving technological world. The customers need assurance that the investment they are making are into the best possible solution, and that this is then maintained to ensure it continues to deliver value over its lifetime.

By putting this into practice, ADComms Communications has developed something of a reputation for assisting in difficult projects, and going above and beyond to deliver results. “Network Rail is right in the midst of handing over regions as part of the GSMR programme, and last minute hitches with RF coverage holes in the network can suddenly arise. Our unique rapid repeater site is really coming in to its own here, being capable of deployment within 48 hours, and with no track possession required. It’s a great product we have developed and a great solution, which really demonstrates the company at its best; bringing together the blend of telecoms engineering and project management skills to achieve time critical projects,” enthuses Jason.

“We were also commended for exceptional teamwork at the 2012 National Rail Awards for our work with Network Rail on the Salisbury to Exeter Signalling Re-control scheme. Our team pulled out all of the stops to complete it by March so that the project was delivered to time, cost, and quality,” he continues.

Commitment to excellence

Having worked successfully with Network Rail for some time, ADComms has taken the necessary steps to assure the organisation, and its other customers, of its commitment to excellence, starting with accreditation as a Principal Contractor for Network Rail. “The expectation is that large contractors will have a Principal Contractor licence, whilst the small to medium-sized companies such as ADComms may not. Therefore the fact that we’ve invested to put that in place, and been heavily audited as a result, demonstrates that we have robust management systems that give the customer the comfort factor that we’re following the right principles. It’s a hugely safety driven licence, which is of critical importance to anyone working on the rail network,” explains John Riley, operations director at ADComms.

On the whole there is an air of confidence in the UK rail market, buoyed by ongoing major investment, and the indication that this will continue going forward. ADComms Communications is investing off the back of this by upskilling its engineers and bringing in new engineers as it develops its offering and delivers more projects within the rail environment. “It’s not without its challenges as there are a lot of major infrastructure players in the market, that may not always place telecoms at the front of all their planning. We want to help them to understand the importance of telecoms in this work, as this technology will play an increasingly large role in the future. If you look at comparative rail networks around the world and the ones that are held up as world class, the importance of telecoms in those is for all to see. If the UK rail market is to get itself to a point where it is seen as world class then it has to embrace what telecoms can bring to it,” outlines Jason.

ADComms is also positive that the areas it is involved in today puts it in a strong position going forward with schemes such as European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). “Even though the technologies will move on, the importance of having good well trained and skilled engineers who are familiar with telecoms infrastructure is absolutely critical to deploying and maintaining a robust UK Rail Telecoms Network. We believe by continuing to deliver projects as we have always done we can expect to continue to play a large role in the rest of the telecoms roll-out. And we are excited about that!” concludes Jason.



Installing Confidence