4site to create new fibre centre in Limerick in latest expansion
Firm provides engineering solutions for telecommunications and utilities networks
4site founder Ian Duggan: “We simplify complex engineering solutions and work with clients to help them maximise the value of their infrastructure.” Photograph: Sean Curtin/True Media
Ian Duggan’s background as principal engineer at Esat Digifone in 1996 was an ideal foundation to set up a consultancy company offering engineering services to telecom operators.
He watched Esat transform from Digifone to O2 during his six years working there. “In 2002, I saw an opportunity to develop engineering solutions for utilities and telecom networks and established 4site with my then business partner Dan Kennedy. We’d worked together in O2.”
Son of a garage owner, Duggan had always aspired to work for himself. Originally based in Ennis, he focused on developing the telecoms business, while Kennedy looked after general engineering consultancy, supporting local authorities and architects.
“We grew the telecoms business to include clients such as Vodafone, O2, Meteor, the Garda and iproperty,” Duggan says. From an initial team of three, Duggan, Kennedy and an engineering technician, the company grew to 30 people by 2008.
The business hit a downturn in 2011 after the recession and Duggan bought Kennedy out. At this point, there were 12 employees.
“I then moved the headquarters to Limerick and, since then, we’ve grown it to in excess of 60 full-time employees.”
4site has broadened its service offering beyond general telecoms design to include telco technical solutions, project management and fibre deployment. The business has also expanded into the UK market.
“We’re the best at what we do,” Duggan says. “We simplify complex engineering solutions and work with clients to help them maximise the value of their infrastructure.
“We’ve highly qualified and experienced technical teams that adapt technology, tools and processes to control the build environment and deliver safe, reliable and future-proofed services on time and within budget.”
One example of this innovation is a customised mobile app, developed with technology group Esri Ireland, which significantly improves the time to design and build of fibre networks. “As far as we are aware, this is a first as we don’t know of any other company using a similar app or process that can be linked directly with back office design tools at this time.”
Duggan says the company is now planning to further develop and refine this invaluable capability.
The recession was not all bad news for 4site. The company was able to attract skilled employees from the civil engineering sector into the telecoms and utility space which allowed it to expand across new areas of utility infrastructure rollout and develop services in the UK.
In 2012, with support from Enterprise Ireland’s business accelerator program, 4site established a UK subsidiary in Reading.
“This year we are expanding our offices in Limerick to create a ‘Fibre Centre of Excellence’. The majority of our employees are based in Limerick, apart from our survey and build teams that work throughout Ireland, the UK and further afield in Europe”.
Graduates from University of Limerick and Limerick Institute of Technology fill many vacancies at the company, which operates a graduate programme in the key engineering skills and has created its own training programmes specific to the company’s projects.
“We’ve developed expertise in fibre and that, married with our mobile experience, has resulted in working on converged networks in the UK that are paving the way for 5G rollout.
“We’re also working with data centres using building information modelling, creating a virtual environment which allows the data centre to manage its assets more effectively.”
Telecom operators go through cycles of investment into new technology deployment – from 2G to 3G, to 4G and now looking at 5G. By working in other sectors, both within telecoms – such as fibre deployment and data centres – as well as other utilities, 4site has been better able to avoid the slumps associated with working in just one area.
Duggan advises other businesses not to be overly dependent on particular clients or sectors. “Diversify and grow across multiple clients and sectors, but don’t ignore the core skills your business provides. Investment in sales and marketing is also important and an area many engineering firms neglect.”
Duggan also places a significant emphasis on the survey and planning process of projects, and how 4site collects information. “Get this wrong and everything else in the rollout process becomes very challenging,” he warns.
Brexit has had a major impact on 4site’s competitiveness in the UK. “In the future, we’ll have to look at how we resource our UK projects in order to keep our costs down and remain competitive. We’ll continue to invest in people, resources and technology but would like to expand to markets beyond the UK.”