30 Years of Ensign Communications
By Gregg Meade & Peter Thompsett on 4th Jul 2017
As our company reaches the ripe-old-age of 30, here is our story.
Not all smooth sailing, the past three decades have seen numerous ‘re-imaginations’, re-housings and fortuitous events, not to mention the odd scare here and there. But, through it all, we have retained the character, personality and values which make Ensign Communications one of the UK’s leading wired and wireless network innovators.
Born in the 80s
In January 1983, Ensign Communications’ founder, Peter Thompsett, began his journey as a salesman of data communications through a company trading as Data Network Design.
Although, the products were not much by today’s technology standards – low-key line drivers and modems - successful trading relationships were established with the local County Council, the Metropolitan Police, the BBC, what was British Rail and a number of other well-known companies such as International Computers (ICL) and oil giant, Shell.
“This was a time when a 9600 bits per second modem was little short of a wonder”, said Peter, “I would often build items from home with a simple soldering iron and wire-wrapping gun.”
This enterprising attitude led Peter to take his first office at the Romany Centre, Holton Heath, moving twice more in quick succession to accommodate growth of both the business and its staff, as two technicians and a secretary were added.
During this time, Peter’s keen eye for promising tech continued, as he arranged for a data multiplexer, designed at Brighton University, to be manufactured by a small company based in Chester by the name of Zeta.
This was the beginning of a life ‘on the road’ for our founder, as both selling and supporting these multiplexers for firms such as the Metal Box Company and Wimpey Construction took off.
A mere four years later and the Data Network Design (or DND) brand was deemed to be outdated and Ensign Communications was incorporated.
From its Romany Centre base, the embryonic enterprise communications business was not only selling the original line drivers and Zeta modems and multiplexers, but was also branching out into the design and manufacture of specialist equipment.
As with any small business or enterprise, Ensign’s earlier years were not all defined by great successes – there were some disappointments and misadventures along the way too:
“We learned that product development can be a very costly business!” said Peter.
Early Days; Big Wins
Having said that, there were future-defining projects which helped the – still young – business to pave its way to prosperity and growth:
- The manufacture and installation of all line drivers and cabling to the Metropolitan Police’s command and control centre, which provided data communication to the central computer room at New Scotland Yard.
- The supply and installation of a nationwide network of multiplexers for the BBC’s local radio stations. The network handled news-feed data, control signals to start the ‘jingle’ tapes and the - then new - motor traffic data systems (RDS).
Nearly a decade later and Ensign Communications’ team had grown further - now totalling six!
The business had matured and was now well established in both the supply of equipment and in providing a growing customer base with information and support on how to use it.
Unfortunately, the popularity of remote data communications via ‘fast’ (9600 baud) modems, with multiplexers providing lots of extra connectivity, had grown big enough for catalogue companies to ‘muscle in’, resulting in lower prices with little added value.
However, pre-empting this threat to Ensign’s core business, network cable installation services were added to the company’s portfolio.
At this time, all computer terminal connections were made through methods which varied between the various computer manufacturers - soldered 'D' connectors, IBM connectors, DEC connectors, amongst others.
“Most devices used the D connector”, said Peter, “with several wires, making it essential to know your ‘Request to Send’ from your ‘Data Carrier Detect’, not to mention the many other colour-coded conventions.”
Ensign were market leaders at the time, being one of just a handful of independent firms carrying-out this kind of skilled work to such a high standard. However, Peter still recalls the difficulties of logistics – a growing team and an ever-increasing requirement for kit and transport made for some interesting times.
High-Speed Fibre Optics
The 90s was a decade of significant advancements in terms of cabling, and Ensign consolidated its position as a leading cabling services provider. With the margins for equipment supply continuing to erode due to catalogues and distributors, it was regarded as an obvious route for the business.
Rapid changes occurred with the advent of structured cabling and optical fibre for higher speed operations. The former depressed charge rates because the whole task was effectively 'de-skilled', but the latter was ‘specialist’ and therefore represented a way for the business to differentiate from the competition.
As an early adopter of optical fibre installation, Ensign won installation work with a number of large businesses and organisations, most notably the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
An Even Bigger Office - Twice
By the mid 90's Ensign had grown sufficiently to warrant a move to a bigger and better office, and so moved the now 15-strong-team to the Omega Centre in Wareham.
Not keen to stay-put for too long, the burgeoning business soon outgrew even the new office and warehouse, forcing yet another move across the road to Ensign’s current headquarters.
The Beginnings of RF Specialisation
The addition of Aeronet wireless data devices into the handheld terminals of Poole-based Telxon Ltd happened to be the beginning of a fortuitous period for Ensign, as the new wireless system became popular within the retail sector (which continues to be a core area of expertise to this day).
Facilitating online transactions, the Telxon solution vastly improved, what were previously slow and ‘late’ data transfers via modem cradles. Requiring transceiver ‘access points’ - installed in strategically suitable positions - to operate effectively, with data cabling back to computer rooms and RF surveying, Ensign were perfectly positioned to add value with their specialist set of services.
As Telxon UK’s sole supplier of site services, the late 90s saw Ensign grow in all areas of the business; from increased staff numbers, to transport, tooling and skillsets. The, now nationwide, site survey and network installation operation would be single-biggest catalyst for the company we are today.
Handheld Terminal Specialisation
In competitive markets, acquisitions and mergers are simply a fact of life and Ensign were, once again, on the right side of history.
At the turn of the century, there were two main players in the hand-held terminal market, Telxon and Symbol - both American.
In a strategic move, Symbol acquired Telxon and moved its UK operations to a different part of the country, leaving its Poole-based staff seeking new opportunities.
By this time, Ensign and Telxon's wireless networks (RF) team had worked very closely together for several years and a number of Telxon’s customers were happy with their current choice of technology, possessing no desire to change – who better than Ensign to provide a solution?
Wireless Networks and Cisco Specialists
In 2001, on April 1st, no fools were present as Ensign Wireless Networks Ltd began business – as a separate entity to the main cabling and services arm - with six ex-Telxon RF engineers on board.
The new team were kept busy on big accounts such as Ford, John Lewis and Tesco and after networking giant, Cisco Systems purchased the Aeronet IP, Ensign’s staff were employed to train their engineers – even travelling as far as Johannesburg, South Africa.
At a fairly rapid pace, Ensign’s wireless arm was becoming well established, and delivery of the service was accelerated with the addition of a few more ex-Telxon staff. Now clear of any perceived risk, the wireless division was incorporated into Ensign Communications, reforming the company as a single entity.
Wireless Growth & Outdoor WiFi
As a business with a reputation for being ahead of the curve with regards to advances in technology, Ensign quickly looked to cement its position within the wireless LAN and network access market.
Adding Aruba Networks (now Aruba HPE) as a key strategic wireless partner and in more recent years, Ruckus Wireless, has enabled the business to offer its customers the very best in wireless technology with no compromise on quality, performance or support.
This, alongside a reputation for deploying robust wireless solutions in the most hostile environments, such as container ports, warehouses and even national landmarks such as Stonehenge and Dover Castle has seen the business go from strength-to-strength. Read some in-depth case studies here.
The communications landscape has changed beyond recognition in the 30 years of Ensign’s existence. Of course, the vast majority of these changes have been positive – business communication is now faster and more resilient than ever and wireless technology has transformed both our professional and personal lives.
But with the convenience, rapidity and simplicity of contemporary communication comes a somewhat unforeseen trade-off in data security. Many businesses have been left reeling from cyber-attacks which were unimaginable a decade ago and this has been brought into even sharper focus with 2017’s WannaCry and Petya ransomware exploits.
Adding Palo Alto Networks’ Next Generation Firewalls to the portfolio in 2012, Ensign continued to prove its ability to recognise and establish innovative solutions, and is now working with businesses of all types and sizes to better-secure both their personnel and the valuable corporate data.
The Key to Success
From humble beginnings in 1987, to market leaders in 2017, Ensign Communications has proved that the key to business survival and, ultimately, to success, is to move with the times; to never be afraid of diversification and, above all, to be passionate about delivering value to the customer.
From modem and multiplexer sales to network designs and installation and support; from soldered connections to structured and optical fibre cabling; from early data communication systems to PC's and servers and ultimately to wireless (WiFi) networks and bespoke managed services - here’s to another 30 years!
For advice on designing or upgrading your WiFi network and associated systems, to the deployment of security solutions like Next Generation Firewalls and Endpoint Network Security, please contact Ensign Communications for a chat with our technical team.
Proud Partners Of
Proud to Work With
Investing heavily in new distribution, logistics and staffing initiatives, Sainsbury's approached Ensign to provide wireless LAN infrastructures to hundreds of Sainsbury’s stores across the British Isles.
In order to meet increasing product demand, JLR’s UK parts distribution operation was moved to Liverpool, with plans to operate out of a new 400,000 sq ft site on the Phoenix Industrial Estate at Ellesmere Port.