I know all of you are thinking of all the risks associated with climbing here, that’s a lot of what I write about. However, they are the obvious risks, aren’t they?
When it comes to risks, there are so many that happen. I am going to break them down by the risks in this business.
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1) Getting Paid for the full scope:
This is the one thing that is most prevalent in wireless deployment, yet one that few people talk about. When it comes to getting paid, the carriers and OEMs generally pay the GCs they work with. However, the money is supposed to trickle down. It doesn’t always happen that way. In fact, several small businesses won’t get paid for one reason or another. There are so many scams that happen in this industry for the deployment teams. This is why the carriers often go directly to the small business now because the GCs got a black eye. There had to be consequences for not getting a job done.
Here are some scams I’ve been told about over the years.
- Larger GC will give the vendor 80% of the equipment, and then never give them the rest. Instead, they will pay another crew to finish up, the final day or two while the crew that was there for a week and did 80% of the work can’t get paid because they could not complete the job.
- Larger GC will pay a partial payment and ask the contractor to do another job to get paid for the last job; then it goes on until the contractor goes broke. Several larger GCs did this in the early 2000’s and not only got away with it, but they also got rich. Sometimes unethical greed pays, even if they destroy small business and people’s lives in the process.
- The larger GC will approve change orders without the carrier’s approval, then not pay. Partial payments or payment for the base scope is all they get. Make sure you have a clear Change Request process in place to handle Change Orders!
- Scope creep is when the scope grows, and the contractor on site does way more than the original scope had in it for the same money. I did this all the time when I did fieldwork. There comes the point when you have to say no or ask for more money, maybe even walk off the site.
- Delay penalties are built into the contract or scope. This is a common thing that many GCs do, and then the work gets delayed with penalties going to the contractor.
- Scope changes at the last This is very common; it’s hard to determine a cost when the changes happen a day or two before you get to the site.
2) Long Payment Terms:
Here is something fairly new, the carriers delay payment from 30 days to 90 days, maybe longer. Larger companies can absorb this to a point, but for services, this is hard. Especially for smaller companies that are trying to make payroll every month. They don’t always have the money to float for a long time, yet the carriers are looking for a way to delay payments as long as possible.
Let me put this into perspective by looking at a little history. If you’re wondering, I have lived through all of this. If you think that the 90 days starts when you finish, guess again. It starts when the site gets accepted. A game the carriers used to play is that they would not send
someone out to inspect and accept the site for weeks, delaying payments. They, the businesses start putting language in the contracts stating that the carrier had 7 to 10 working days to accept the site. That changed a lot of things, like how soon they get out to inspect the site.
Then, the carriers would critique every little thing, and the contractor had to fix a lot of items. This would cause delays and scheduling issues. The contractor would have to come back, do the work, and then wait for another inspection. Well, the contractors wised up by bringing a crew on site and doing all the work real-time. Thus, inspection and repair are all done the same visit. However, the schedule would suffer because the scope did not define the end product that well.
Then scopes and site acceptance packages all improved, to the point it is expected to be prepared up front, which add more money and man hours to the job before anything is deployed. I got way off topic, sorry.
So, after the work is done, let’s say a week, then after the inspection is done, let’s add another week, then when the paperwork goes through, add another 2 to 5 business days, then the bill goes to the carrier, and the countdown begins. It could be 30 days or 90 days or longer, on top of the additional 7 to 15 days already included. Like I said, if you are floating paychecks to people and this is your only income, it gets painful.
3) Up Front Training:
Remember for all of this work to be done; the contractor has to have some training. They may be able to read a MOP, but they should have an SME, Subject Matter Expert, within their company to make this happen. Generally, the contractor has to do this on their own dime.
It could be climbing, commissioning, wiring, making jumpers, terminating fiber or coax, anything that could be needed at the site. Even router configurations.
IF the training is not sufficient, then the quality of the installation suffers.
4) Miscellaneous Risks:
This is something that is encountered, causes problems, but is not often talked about unless you’re working the offer.
I have a list:
- Weather-related delays, maybe even hurricanes. All cost the deployment teams money and delay the project. Even if it happens somewhere else, your boss may pull you off the deployment to do repairs which are generally more lucrative than new installations.
- Vandalism and theft. This is very common for contractors. Not necessarily at the job site, but when they stay in hotels or park somewhere in the city, very common. Causes delays and out-of-pocket money to replace a tool that may have been needed but left in the vehicle.
- Per Diem becomes an issue for smaller contractors. They should give their workers more than a hotel room, but often, that’s all some of them get. They need to get paid for their meals. If you don’t think this happens, talk to the Hubble Foundation because they used to help out climbers that would have no food money, in fact, sometimes they get left at the hotel without getting paid. Surprisingly, this is more common, although it never happened to me! It pays to know whom you work for.
- Health Matters. For many of these crews and commissioning engineers, an injury or sickness can really be a setback. They don’t’ have endless resources of people and if the work has to be done at the site, what can you do? You have to replace them, even if it’s short term.
- Security is an issue in some areas. I mean physical security against theft or bodily injury. I know so many site workers, engineers, and technicians that locked themselves in a site to be safe. I know that some sites require that you have a security guard or service to protect your team or vehicles while working at the site. Sadly, all too common in this industry.
- RF Safety could be an issue at a tower site. Something to think about, the climbers will be working around a lot of RF. This could cause problems if the RF is not turned down or they get too close to another antenna. While this falls under health, it really has to do with training.
- Poor training. This goes without saying, but you would be surprised how many people at a site are poorly trained. You probably know, but you don’t want to admit it.
- Lawsuits overwork. This is a drain on everyone, but a larger company may look at a petty lawsuit for nonpayment or injury as “business as usual” whereas a smaller company has to decide if the fight is worth the time and lost income.
- People walk off the job; this is common. Sometimes people get pissed off and leave, it sucks, but there’s little you can do to control those people.
- The OEM’s equipment doesn’t work. Could be a failure out of the box, or poor documentation, improper installation, wiring error, you name it. You think you do everything right, and it fails. Who pays for the equipment replacement? Something to think about.
- Damaged equipment is common in work like this. We do all that we can to make sure that the equipment gets there in one piece, but this is delicate equipment, and it is a rough environment. It could get damaged, and then you have all the finger-pointing. It sucks, but it’s common. Did it get damaged in shipping, did the crew damage it, or did it get damaged during installation? We may never know the truth!
- Misunderstandings happen. This could be that the contractor was going to install something that they are not familiar with. While we should all read the scope prior to the job, not everyone does. This creates confusion, could create a problem with the installation, commissioning, or testing. While this is never accounted for, it happens more often than people realize.
How do you protect yourself?
There are a lot of risks in deployment. Not just for the tower crew, but for the engineers, technicians, and especially for the small business owner. How would you protect yourself from these risks? I believe it all starts up front. I have an outline below of somethings that are probably common sense, but you may not practice them as you should.
As you read these, understand most of this has to be done up front. The paperwork matters if you want to be protected.
- The contract. Read the contract and understand it. Hey, I don’t understand most contracts, so what I do is hire a lawyer who specializes in contracts. In fact, that’s what all businesses should do. It pays to have someone smart in your corner. Don’t just pay them to read and protect you but ask them to walk you through it. This sounds like a pain; I used to ignore this. I have learned that it really pays off. Ask them to explain it. It costs more to do this if paying by the hour, but it will help you in the long run.
- The scope of work. I know, you all know what it takes to get the job done, but did you put in the proper assumptions and exclusions? Did you outline the change request process? Is all of this laid out in layman’s terms, so your worker has a clear understanding of what they need to do at the site. Most larger OEMs have MOPs, Method of Process or Procedures, for you to follow. Make sure they get this to you prior to doing any work.
- If you are doing something new, what training do you need from the carrier or OEM? Make sure you get it. Make sure you set aside the time and resources to do it properly. If it’s cable termination, as the supplier to provide it at your location. If it’s the carrier providing it, ask them to do it in the closest market to you. What can be done online and what has to be hands on? Figure it out!
- Milestones and payment terms. While this should be in the scope or the contract, lay it out in clear English, or whatever language you’re doing business in. Each milestone will need to be laid out along with a payment expectation for that milestone. If you get 80% of the site complete and the GC does not supply you with enough equipment, state that in the SOW you should get paid 50% to 80% when that much is done. Maybe you want a deposit up front, outline what the expectation is to get off your ass and start working.
- Poor workers. If you have someone who is a danger at the site or stupid, you need to trim the fat. I hate losing bodies, but if you don’t, then you may wind up with a lawsuit to protect some idiot who should have been fired weeks ago.
- Take care of your superstars if you want to keep them. If you take care of them with payment, per diem, and understanding, then you are ahead of 80% of other companies out there. Taking care of them is more than money. You need to listen to their ideas and explain why you are doing what you’re doing. One thing I have been complimented for is that I often give people the “” Why are we doing this? Why is it done this way? Why do we need to use this tool or training? If you can answer these questions, then you have them understand the reason for the scope of work, and they are aligned with your goals for the right reasons. Not just the almighty dollar. FYI, this is a two-way street, if they have a better way to do something that could save money, you need to listen to them as well. Don’t just talk, listen!
Now you have an idea of what risks you will see. This is especially valuable when bidding a job or starting out. That’s the time to look at the risks, not when it’s too late, and something horrible has happened. Then it’s too late.
You have some ideas on what to do to avoid these risks. You can’t control the weather, but you can plan around it. You can’t control accidents, but you can do all that you can to prevent them. You can’t control other companies, but you can build in language to make sure you have a viable lawsuit if things go south.
Thank you for your support and your time. And good job on learning all you can in the wireless industry, you are amazing! Now, go out and impress people!
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Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!
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Climbers can get seriously injured and/or die on the job. Support the workers who build and install the wireless systems!
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Hubble Foundation helps the families of climbers in a time of need and beyond with financial support and counseling!
Tower Family Foundation supports the families of tower climbers at the time of crisis when a climber falls with financial assistance and more.