Small Cell Deployment Brings Four Bars to the Beach

Whether enjoying a day at the beach or shopping along the iconic 2.5-mile Ocean City boardwalk in Maryland, visitors, business owners and residents depend on wireless connectivity for mobile services and devices. Existing bandwidth was becoming overloaded due to increasing crowds and a longer vacation season. With eight million annual visitors flocking to the tourist destination and ever-changing standards for mobile network speeds, a national communications infrastructure provider identified a need to improve wireless reception both on the beach and in the surrounding downtown area. KCI was contracted to design and construct a small cell network of antennas and fiber core cabling along the boardwalk and on side streets between Baltimore and Philadelphia Avenue, which will provide better coverage to residents without diminishing the aesthetics and spirit of the beach destination.

Small cells are access nodes within a cellular network that help to increase network coverage and capacity by more effectively utilizing bandwidth in small spaces. Because they are connected via fiber optic cable, they can transmit more data at faster speeds.

Access Node
KCI utilized the existing infrastructure to blend the equipment and technology with the aesthetics of the boardwalk, such as installing white nodes onto white lampposts.

Spanning from the inlet parking lot to 27th street, our team connected 19 small cell sites mounted on existing light poles and signs along the east side of the boardwalk. Securing equipment onto these structures helped to mitigate areas suffering from limited cell service without diminishing the current visuals of the area. The work required moving existing utility pole attachments, installing guy lines for stability and anchoring the foundations of the structures.

Technicians provided fiber pathway, fiber placement and splicing to connect the new small cell sites. KCI used existing conduit under the boardwalk to connect to the nodes; however, because the town’s infrastructure began at 1st Street, our team had to construct a new 2,000-foot-long pathway in the sand to reach the inlet. The aging pier had been renovated several times, requiring workers to take precautions when directional drilling underneath the historic amusement park rides. By shortening the bore, crews were able to avoid utilities, water and other unknown obstacles.

Fiber Trenching
In order to lay a fiber connection parallel to the boardwalk and connect the new access points, KCI trenched directly into the beachfront along some of Ocean City’s most iconic stores and restaurants. Challenges included winter weather, sandy soil conditions, public safety and shortened daylight work hours.

“Our team’s expertise allowed us to identify the issues early on and develop solutions,” said project manager Brian Temple. “While we ran into unexpected conditions throughout the course of the project, we were prepared to overcome them and completed our tasks ahead of schedule.” Shallow groundwater was encountered when placing handholes that facilitate maintenance of the fiber optic infrastructure. Workers also discovered issues with the size of the existing handholes, as well as unexpected issues with the framing of the boardwalk that required custom supports to be fabricated. Multiple crews, up to seven at one time, helped KCI stay ahead of schedule and resulted in the client issuing our team an additional 12 work orders.

Cellular network standards are going to continue to change as our technology does. To make sure that residents and visitors can stay connected, communications providers must be prepared to adapt, often while facing various stumbling blocks along the way.

Michael KacherProject Manager

Michael Kacher

Phase One was completed three weeks ahead of schedule and in plenty of time for the new small cell network to offer added coverage and capacity during the summer season. Thanks to the success of the project, KCI is in the process of completing Phase Two, which will support the placement of fiber cables along Ocean City’s multi-mile Coastal Highway. Spanning from 15th to 145th Street, our team reworked much of the original alignment away from state-owned right-of-way to minimize annual resource sharing fees that might be incurred. Instead, engineers plotted a path along side streets, limiting the construction along coastal highway to cross-over points. Crews are using directional drilling to place new conduit, then pulled fiber optic cables through the pathway, splicing the sections together to connect the small cell network.

Boardwalk alterations were necessary to complete the underground components of the project.

Once complete, any disturbance to the boardwalk, concrete, or asphalt was fully restored including mill and overlay to meet the town’s specifications. Crews activated nodes as sections came online. Together, both phases will offer residents and visitors added coverage and capacity, even during the summer when the town is flooded with vacationers.