Could Your Jobsite Benefit from a Wi-Fi Mesh Network System?

Today’s complex projects demand instant access to data. If your Wi-Fi signal isn’t holding you back yet, it will soon.  

The tablet and smartphone have become among the construction manager’s most valuable tools, but their value drops when you can’t get a signal on the jobsite.

It’s no longer enough to have a signal back in the trailer. Whether you’re communicating through email, BIM or a collaborative construction management platform, today’s complex construction projects — and their tight schedules — depend on real-time updates. But many jobsites are challenged by signal interference, which can throw a wrench in the works.

Concrete walls, heavy equipment and materials stacks can all degrade a Wi-Fi signal. You can’t even assume you’ll get a better signal standing by a window because many glass units today have a coating that can block a signal as effectively as a wall.

If you’re getting by with a system of routers and extenders, you know it can be time-consuming to reposition them as the construction site changes.

Enter the Wi-Fi mesh network. These systems extend a network signal without the hassle of networking multiple Wi-Fi extenders or running Ethernet cables along an active jobsite. Because the devices that make up the mesh system communicate with each other, you can daisy chain them across significant distances. The simplest systems are fairly plug and play — no need for tracking multiple network names, and the devices can configure themselves.

Mesh networks have been in use in homes for a while, but now manufacturers are creating study versions for use on construction sites. While these systems are more expensive than extenders, as with anything else, the high upfront cost could provide significant returns in the long run.

Project teams can benefit from a Wi-Fi mesh network by:

  • Improving everyone’s access to project updates as they happen. Software solutions from BIM platforms to virtual reality tools are improving collaboration among GCs and their partners, but if you have to go back to the trailer to get a signal, what difference does a real-time update make? On some remote jobsites, you might need Wi-Fi mesh to get timely information at all — say, a response to the RFI you were waiting for, a schedule update or a problem in fabrication that demands an immediate solution.
  • Letting you hold a teleconference at the site of the problem. Numerous apps allow field crews to enter photos and other notes about a project, which can be uploaded to the server or emailed out when the device reconnects. But why wait? With a strong signal, you can explain and show the problem, and come to solutions with your engineer or fabricator immediately.
  • Bringing the Internet of Things to construction tools. Today’s manufacturers are creating ways to talk to your tools, but many of these solutions depend on a wireless signal. For example, DeWalt developed its construction site-ready Wi-Fi mesh technology as the first step of a complete IoT platform. It says its forthcoming Tool Connect™ inventory management system will help contactors easily locate assets on-site. But accessing and sharing this data will require a signal.

Many GCs are still dipping their toes into technology like BIM, VR and IoT — and IoT itself is still in its infancy. But adoption of these tools may depend on a reliable signal. So if you don’t need one now, chances are you will soon.