A Problem Solver Takes on Tower Workflow Automation

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Subbu Meiyappan, CEO and Founder of ECSite, is a serial entrepreneur. Someone that sees a problem and starts a company to solve it. Meiyappan came up with the idea for ECSite while still at a 3D geolocation company he co-founded, NextNav. NextNav launched to solve the problem of locating people within buildings using terrestrial positioning system technology.

Meiyappan would see technicians making mistakes in cable installation deploying his company’s Beacon network in the field. He thought about how the problem of increasing quality control in the field could be solved, especially when it is scaled to larger deployments, and in the wireless infrastructure industry.

“A cell tower has maybe 40 cables to install and in a sports stadium, there can be 5,000 cables to install,” Meiyappan said. “I investigated how the telecom and wireless industry were managing these complex deployments, and I found that it was still very traditional, with a spreadsheet, a pencil and paper. And, I said to myself, ‘there must be a better way to do this.’”

The answer Meiyappan found was to develop an end-to-end software as a service (SaaS) platform for fully automated site-closeout for indoor and outdoor DAS, small cells, and macro sites. His new company, ECSite, came to fruition in 2019 to deliver this solution.

“I figured this is a scale problem that needs to be solved, and I like being involved in big scale problems in general,” Meiyappan said. “So, we found a business opportunity to go out and implement the idea and the company, which is ECSite.”

A Customized Software Platform

ECSite’s software platform is wholly customizable to meet the customer’s unique needs on a per-project basis. Leveraging the user’s testing standards, and checklists for construction, installation, and commissioning, plus the MoPs and SoPs, ECSite automatically generates a customized app for the user. The technician’s smartphone uses the ECSite app to perform end-to-end automation of cable sweeps, PIMs, fiber, CAT6, CW testing, closeout photos, and forms.

In order to customize the software for its customers’ process, ECSite has to understand the equipment deployment industry and its metrics, Meiyappan said. To do that, he must listen closely to his customers. “Our customers always give us feedback, and we’re always grateful for that,” he said. “They say, ‘can your team change this or tweak that?’ We make the changes, and, boom, we’re able to turn it around in a day and enable that process.”

In some cases, ECSite presents a new process to its customer, which is a slight variation of the theme of their own process. “Every company has a unique closeout process, which they adapted from different industries,” Meiyappan said. “They are usually very receptive to trying a new way instead.”

One example of ECSite’s customer responsiveness occurred at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans where a carrier’s upgrade to support its Wireless Communications Service (WCS) bands required the installation of more than 300 under-seat antennas. Each antenna required concrete coring for cable access, with X-ray examination used to ensure that no rebar or tensioning cable was cut. But the company doing the deployment had no process to close out the rather unique project.

The company, which was an ECSite customer, called and asked for a way to document the drilling process and the testing of the effective radiated power (ERP) level of the transmitters. Overnight, the team at ECSite added a couple of forms to its platform, with pass/fail test criteria for the ERP test, which allowed five crews to go to work in tandem the next day on the 73,000-seat NFL stadium.

Once the equipment is installed, it must be commissioned, and then an over-the-air (OTA) test needs to be completed to ensure the system works end-to-end. ECSite’s app is involved in the commissioning and the OTA test, as well.

Once the network testing is done, the pictures are taken, any notes are logged in and the user’s handset syncs with the cloud, where the data is unloaded, stored and processed. It is then delivered electronically to the ECSite portal. The closeout is automatically generated in accordance with standards.

“We always speak an end-to-end language,” Meiyappan said. “We always try to take it through all the way to the end. And then there are different places where we can help.”

Achieving Scale

In a short period of time, ECSite has amassed an impressive set of clients, including, Crown Castle International, Mobilitie, ExteNet and Modus. And Meiyappan seems to have achieved his dream of scale. ECSite is used in NFL stadiums, NBA arenas, transit stations, government buildings, cell tower deployments, small cell poles, DAS networks and public safety networks. Most recently, ECSite  was used in the new slate of Major League Soccer (MLS) stadiums built throughout the United States including Allianz Field (Minnesota United FC), Q2 Stadium (Austin FC), Westend Stadium (FC Cincinnati), Toyota Stadium (FC Dallas) and Audi Field (D.C. United).

In a project where small cells were constructed throughout San Francisco, ECSite automated 15,640 tests, 563,040 data points and 10,737 photos. In the wireless deployment at Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, NV, the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders, nearly 22,000 tests were performed on 2,683 cables and systems. Almost 1,700 photos were taken and uploaded. In Chicago, IL, a passive intermodulation (PIM) mitigation project at 22 towers called for the automating more than 1,200 photos.

For one of ECSite’s customers, closeouts used to take roughly 90 days because of issues with missing data, permits, photos and other documentation. ECSite was able to cut that time down by almost 90 percent. “In some projects, large projects, we’ve saved like more than six-man months of time,” Meiyappan said. “In a button push, you can generate the deliverables that will get you paid very fast.”

Expanding Target Markets

ECSite’s target market includes companies that sell to Tier One operators, including tower owners and operators, in-building DAS, third party owners, neutral hosts, integrators, and general contractors. This year, it added new verticals, targeting outside plant (OSP)  deployment, including the testing and documenting work done on fiber optic deployments. To develop the expertise in fiber, ECSite partnered with America Fujikura Ltd. (AFL), which makes fiber optic cable, transmission and substation accessories, outside plant equipment, connectors, fusion splicers, test and inspection equipment.

“They teach us a lot about fiber,” Meiyappan said. “Whether it is fronthaul or backhaul, there is a lot of fiber being deployed out there, and all that fiber is going to need to be spliced and tested.” Companies are already beginning to use ECSite’s software to close out their fiber jobs, he added.

Additionally, ECSite has signed a contract with a major manufacturer, which is going to be using the software to perform quality control of its products from the floor of the plant. Similar to the technicians on the tower, workers will perform tests, take pictures and otherwise document their work, so customers can access the website to see proof that it was all done correctly.

The Startup Bug

Meiyappan hasn’t always been a serial entrepreneur. Before striking out on his own, he worked as an engineer designing wireless technology. His first wireless work came as a hardware engineer designing WiMax broadband wireless internet products for Cisco Systems. After that, he worked on the first ever 802.11 MIMO chips for cell phones and wireless LANs with Airgo Networks. When that company was acquired by Qualcomm, he led the development of the first 4×4 MIMO 802.11N wireless ICs. From there, Meiyappan discovered the desire to begin his own technology company.

“After a while in Silicon Valley, I had all these good friends who talked about beginning startup companies. So, the bug got me. Right? And then, once I had that bug, there was no going back.”

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