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Upgrading to 4G: Sprint makes haste

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With «Project Leapfrog», Sprint, one of the largest US mobile telecommunications operators, is planning to upgrade 40,000 mobile communication sites to the new, faster 4G technology over the next four years. Approximately one third of the sites will be equipped by Ericsson – with cable assemblies from HUBER+SUHNER. A new production site dedicated specifically to these production activities was established in minimum time in Mexico.

The volume of data traffic in mobile communication networks has positively exploded since the arrival of smartphones on the market. New technologies and infrastructure upgrades are essential in order to handle the ever increasing data volumes coursing through the networks. Operators are therefore increasingly turning to Fiber to the Antenna (FTTA) solutions. Fiber optic cables, which are capable of carrying much higher data volumes than conventional RF cables, are routed from the base station to the antenna.

upgrading to 4G

Customised plug-and-play

HUBER+SUHNER offers a range of connectivity solutions for FTTA technology. To meet the needs of the customer, the experienced team provided a plug-and-play hybrid cable system solution for the supply of so-called remote radio heads at the top of the antenna. Fiber optic cables for the large data volumes and copper cables for the power supply are laid in parallel between the base station and the top of the antenna. Because, as a mobile communications provider, Sprint has to pay a monthly fee for each cable on the mast, a single-cable solution containing both the fiber optic and power supply lines was sought.

HUBER+SUHNER succeeded in achieving this by combining the Masterline Extreme fiber optic cable system with existing Masterline Extreme power products. Five remote radio heads can now be powered from a single main cable. Compared with conventional hybrid cables, this product impresses through its simple plug-and-play installation.

Most of the cable assemblies are produced in lengths between 40 and 80 metres (lengths up to 150 metres are also possible). They are used to connect the base station to the remote radio heads. Their weight is correspondingly heavy. Because long-distance transport was unfeasible for cost reasons and Ericsson insisted on a local supplier, it was clear from the outset that the cables had to be manufactured in North America. The existing HUBER+SUHNER location in Vermont, however, did not offer the necessary capacity for this major order. Particularly because the American mobile communications market is extremely dynamic and suppliers have to be extremely flexible in order to implement changes in an extremely short time. New solutions were needed.

Mexico produces for USA

It was towards the end of 2010 that the idea of building a production site in Mexico was first put forward. Potential sites were visited in January 2011. Then, everything went very quickly. A 1500 m² plus factory complex was rented in Empalme in north-western Mexico from June 2011. Proximity to the US border and the availability of a highlyskilled workforce were key factors in the decision to locate here. From July, the empty building was equipped, the production facilities set up and the workforce trained. Some sixty employees celebrated the opening of the new Mexican production site in early September 2011. The following week already saw delivery of the first cable assemblies to Ericsson. Just two months later, production had been increased to 250 assemblies a week and a second production line had to be installed. A LISCA assembly line was also built. By early 2012, even larger deliveries were being made to Ericsson each week from a workforce that had already been doubled to 130 – and was still growing. Such rapid progress was necessary because Ericsson intends to upgrade the first 5000 mobile telecommunication sites for Sprint during 2012, beginning with Texas, Georgia, Florida and Kansas.

Prepared for further growth

With the rapid establishment of a production site in Mexico, HUBER+SUHNER has demonstrated flexibility and has impressively shown that custom-developed products are a company speciality. The Sprint Leapfrog project could lead to further orders for the North American mobile telecommunications market in the future, as most providers have no alternative other than upgrading to 4G with Fiber to the Antenna technology. Market potential exists and is real, just like the capacity and flexibility demonstrated by HUBER+SUHNER with its new production site in Mexico.