Towering Innovation

Orbis was the first to market with a fiber to the antenna solution with trunk cable. Ensto is helping them keep the leader’s position in Finland.

Talk on a mobile phone in Finland and you likely take for granted that some poor soul climbed 150 meters skyward in windy and icy conditions to affix hundreds of meters of heavy cable to a mast.

Thanks to Orbis, the technician may now ascend the mast a whole lot less.

A family affair

Founded in 1949, Orbis is known for distributing radio frequency, fiber optic, and machine vision technologies throughout Finland. Led by Markku Linna-Aro, the 50-employee, family-held company also manufactures a host of complementing products, including a world’s-first in 2007: a Fiber to the Antenna (FttA) solution.

The Orbis innovation meant six heavy copper cables no longer had to be hauled 150 meters into the air and connected separately to radio antennas. Thanks to Orbis technology, one cable could be run up the side of a mast and be connected via fiber optic technology to radio units with short, three-meter jumpers.

“Our FttA technology means dramatic savings,” says Heikki Kaskela, Technical Product Manager at Orbis. “You get faster, simpler installation, much lower investment costs, and savings in power needed to cool the transmitter are about 40 percent lower overall.”

Problem, solution

But the initial solution employed a plastic enclosure which was not ideal. For starters, it had no hinge. “The lids could fall off the boxes when you’re up on a mast trying to install them,” says Heikki Saukko, Orbis Sales Director. “Also, the boxes were made in Germany.” And Germany was far enough a way you couldn’t just hop in the car to go talk about enclosure technology.

So Orbis turned to Ensto. Porvoo was a short hop from the Orbis offices in Vantaa. Ensto engineers moved quickly with design, and the product could be shipped ready, leaving Orbis to attach only cables and adapters. There was also no language barrier. But best of all: Ensto was flexible.

“We needed a lot of modifications in the boxes,” says Saukko. “There are twelve glands of differing sizes through which the cables pass. We also have three or four different designs, so communication has to be good to get it right.”

Paula Meuronen, Marketing Manager for Orbis, says testing is also an issue. “After the designs you have to do pilot installation. Every time we bring a new version to market it must be tested at least two sites. Ensto understands our process and remains flexible.”

The rest play catch-up

Despite having world-first technology with documented savings of up to 50 percent cheaper than the total cost of individual risers for each remote radio unit and
50 percent faster to install, the world outside Finland is slow to catch up.

“Finland is a market where new technology is easily adapted,” explains Meuronen. “It’s not just Nokia. Finland’s mobile network providers also want to lead the world.”

Although the rest of Europe is often years behind Finland when it comes to FttA technology, Finnish demand has been solid. To date, 15,000 units have sold for the fiber optic technology.

Orbis sees Russia as a key future market, and they recently expanded there. “Russia is huge, of course,” Meuronen says. “And now they’re making base station technology a priority.”

Author: Scott Diel