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Cell division: B.C. contractor specializes in cellular networks

Peter Kenter
Cell division: B.C. contractor specializes in cellular networks

Wireless networks continue to expand across the province — better service, wider coverage and even cellular service in underground transit systems. Coquitlam’s HighAngle Contracting has been building that network in British Columbia since 2002.

"If you look in the phone book, there are a million electricians and a million plumbers but there are only a little more than a dozen companies in the province in our line of work," says the company’s general manager, Dave Roberts.

"There are still big pieces of the pie available for companies doing this type of work. We’re a smaller outfit, but our hands-on project management style gets us invited to bid in a lot of high-visibility builds."

The company’s work includes new construction, from erecting towers and communications infrastructure to installing wireless systems inside tunnels. It also includes maintenance, repair and system upgrades.

Roberts was the company’s first full-time employee hired shortly after its incorporation. Today it employs 11 workers, while its sister company HighAngle Technical Group employs about 50 workers who hook up clients to fibre optic services.

As a lean company, workers wear many hats. Roberts continues to work in a hands-on capacity, acquiring new work, quoting on jobs, and ensuring quality control in construction.

"Safety is extremely important," he says.

"When I visit sites, I also help to ensure that everyone meets safety protocols."

Much of the company’s work is remote access, so all employees are certified at least OFA Level 1 First Aid Attendants — two have Level 3. All employees receive Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 Radio Frequency (RF) Energy safety training as well as fall protection, aerial lift, and many other site-specific safety courses and orientations. The company’s specialized climbers receive training and certification with the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians.

HighAngle’s clients include the major telcos serving the province — Bell Mobility, Telus Mobility, Rogers Wireless and Freedom Mobile, for example. However, other clients have included the RCMP, BC’s E-Comm 9-1-1 and rail transit organizations.

For tower work, carriers typically supply the tower sections and electronic infrastructure. HighAngle generally picks up the tower sections from manufacturers in the Lower Mainland.

"We bring to the table all civil and electrical work," says Roberts. "We handle it right through to powering up the site."

That includes excavations, pile driving, formwork, concrete work, anchor bolt cages, backfilling, landscaping, erecting antennas, hooking up transmission lines, electric service and installing technology, equipment cabinets and battery systems. Crane work for tower construction is typically sub-contracted.

Roberts notes that 99 per cent of telecommunications site equipment uses DC voltage, but is supplied with grid AC.

"We install rectifiers and battery banks to convert the AC power to DC, similar to the way that a car’s alternator delivers power to your DC battery so it can power the car’s electronics," says Roberts.

"The battery banks supply a minimum eight-hour backup to the site. The majority of sites have a DC generator that kicks in when the batteries are depleted."

The split between urban/rural and remote work depends on whether telcos are involved in system expansion or upgrades. Some years, work is almost exclusively urban and rural.

The most remote contract completed by HighAngle was a 4G upgrade for Bell Mobility in Fort Liard, N.W.T.

However, sites accessible only by helicopter present the greatest logistical challenges. The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics saw a spate of mountaintop work to ready Whistler for a massive increase in bandwidth, to address the needs of tens of thousands of visitors.

"We had to use helicopters under snow conditions because driving and snowmobile access was restricted," says Roberts.

"We had to helicopter in towers, components and tools and keep helicopters on standby in case of an emergency. We also built our tallest tower here, a 240-foot structure in Callaghan Valley."

Some of HighAngle’s most prominent contracts include handling wireless installations and upgrades at BC Place. The company also provided a range of wireless services — train communications, E-Comm 9-1-1 and full coverage passenger cellular for Telus, Rogers and Bell — to the 16-kilometre rapid transit Canada Line in Vancouver.

"It was a continuous nine- to 10-month job," says Roberts. "We still do maintenance contracts and there are huge construction challenges working around an active train tunnel, with work limited to a two-hour window of non-revenue hours."

Roberts says that High

Angle employs a lot of "tech nerds" who are keen to follow the newest upgrades for cellular service. Often those upgrades mean a new spate of contracts for the company.

"Right now in the background the carriers are working on the 5G system and there’s going to be a huge roll-out of new equipment in 2018 and 2019," he says.

"We’ve already worked on signal testing at trial sites for some carriers."

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