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Specializing Without Specializing

By William Atkinson | Feb 15, 2016
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Young Electric Co. in San Francisco has been in business since 1977. It created a separate division, Young Communications, in 1995 to support client needs related to today’s advanced data communication networks. The two divisions work out of one location, and each has 70–80 employees, with work split about 50/50 between high- and low-voltage.


Both divisions do design/build, plan/spec and design/assist work for educational, biopharmaceutical, retail, office, hospitality, hospital, religious, theater, high-tech and high-end residential facilities. The company also provides network infrastructure administration and maintenance/support for its customers.


“Recently, we have been doing a lot of work for the healthcare industry,” said Len Beatie, manager of Young Communications. The type of low-voltage work the company performs runs the gamut, including data communications (tele/data cabling); security systems and fire alarms; heating, ventilating and air conditioning controls; audio/video and media distribution; and wireless systems, including distributed antenna system (DAS) infrastructure, also known as in-building cellular repeating.


“Voice/data represents most of our work, and we also do quite a bit of security,” Beatie said. 


In recent months, Young Communications has experienced a huge upsurge in DAS work. A DAS is a network of spatially separated antenna nodes, precisely tuned to match the areas of a building, and connected to a common source using a transport medium that provides wireless service within a geographic area or structure. The purpose of a DAS is to split the transmitted power among several antenna elements, separated in space, to provide coverage over the same area as a single antenna but with reduced total power and improved reliability. It accomplishes this by boosting mobile broadband coverage, especially in high-traffic areas.


While a DAS can be installed outside, many DASs are placed inside buildings—especially large buildings, such as stadiums, convention centers and large corporate headquarters—to improve wireless signals for users.


While Young Communications doesn’t specialize in DAS, per se, it is focusing more of its time and effort on such projects.


“In fact, we have doubled our wireless work in the last year,” Beatie said.


“DAS is really an emerging technology,” he said. “Since everyone is on their iPhones and iPads, bandwidth requirements have been increasing exponentially over the last few years.”


For example, carriers are now advertising 4G long-term evolution (LTE), which takes up a lot of bandwidth.


“We have been helping to get signals into the buildings,” Beatie said. “We are working with AT&T and Verizon, as well as doing some enterprise work, where we design, engineer and commission the systems.”


Recently, Young Communications completed a DAS project at Terminal 3 of the San Francisco International Airport, and the company is working on a similar project for the airport’s international terminal.


“We are also doing DAS work at a lot of other large venues, including Gilead Sciences,” Beatie said.


Beatie said there are two keys to success in becoming a leader in this specialized technology.


The first is training. In most cases, Young Electric and Young Communications try to get most of their employees as new apprentices who are “right out of the gate,” according to Beatie. These individuals have completed the three-year union apprenticeship training program, which includes learning all of the basic codes and standards for cable, including the ANSI TIA/EIA standards.


“We then teach them our culture and bring them up through our ranks so they don’t bring bad habits from other employers,” he said.


For DAS specifically, though, while employees have learned some of this during their apprenticeship, they need more detailed and specific training, including gaining a very comprehensive understanding of RF signals and how to distribute them properly. As a result, Young Communications sends employees to specialized certification courses offered by many DAS equipment manufacturers around the country.


“We also provide a lot of on-the-job training,” Beatie said.


The second key to success is to be particularly responsive to customer needs.


“Besides making sure we can provide quality work and customer service, [customers such as Verizon and AT&T] are in the process of doing a lot of DAS projects in a short amount of time, so we need to make sure we get the work done for them in a timely manner,” Beatie said.


DAS continues to be an emerging technology.


“I think there is a lot of room to grow here, and we are definitely staying on top of this trend,” Beatie said.


Young is also getting more involved in automation and building management.

About The Author

ATKINSON has been a full-time business magazine writer since 1976. Contact him at [email protected]

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