Map Group is celebrating 30 years of securing the UK’s connectivity

Today, we rely so frequently on high-speed connectivity in our day-to-day lives. From posting on social media to working from home, an internet connection is something taken for granted, especially in the Western world.

A connection inevitably requires strong, secure infrastructure. One company leading Britain’s telecoms revolution is Map Group (Map). Celebrating 30 years in business this year, Map has equipped millions of households and businesses with broadband. Its technology and skills are trusted by leading suppliers including Virgin Media and Openreach.

With the telecoms industry planning an Analogue Switch Off for the UK by the end of 2025, Map is now playing a key role in replacing copper wires with new fibre ones. Openreach, for instance, has confirmed its plan to install a new fibre service across the UK, retiring its copper broadband and telephone lines along the way.

Map is part of the journey from inception to installation. Starting with network planning and design, the process includes surveying, building the network, civils, overhead construction, and final installation. We sit down with Mike Carlin, Map’s CEO, to discuss the story behind the company’s key role in securing the UK’s connectivity.

The business initially began in 1993 as an electrical contracting business, rather than telecoms. “After just two years, we identified a niche in the market for the introduction of cable television into the UK, so we started working for Comcast in the Northeast of England,” begins Mike.

“After about six months, I was approached to carry out some residential installations, connecting the network to the customer’s property. We grew within this space and by 2007, we had over 1000 people working on residential installations from the Scottish border down to the south coast.

“We still carried out electrical and plumbing works during this time, but when the recession hit in 2008, we reconsidered the direction of the business and decided to focus on telecoms,” Mike narrates. “From there, we embarked on multi-dwelling units (MDU) for BT Openreach. It naturally grew from there into working on new builds, where we’d connect an entire new estate to the network.

“Then, with the introduction of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) around 2015, we embarked on carrying out fibre installations for Openreach and Virgin Media. We also then completed network builds, doing construction work both underground and overhead. We’ve carried on that journey ever since really, helping to upgrade older networks, as well as working with our core clients.”

The company is currently working on the fibre network in Braintree, Essex, on behalf of Gigaclear. “As one of Gigaclear’s Tier 1 providers, we were in the process of building a new fibre network and connecting around 20,000 homes in and around Braintree,” Mike details. “As an extension to that, we’re now working in one of the adjoining towns, Witham. A further 2000 homes are set to be connected, which requires approximately 130 kilometres of trenching.

“We’re also embarking on the building of data centres. We’ve established a separate business to procure land and commence partnership deals with several different landowners to build the centres. Ultimately, we’ll utilise our experience with data centres and fibre networks to incorporate the two concepts. It’s an area where again, we’re adapting to market conditions and morphing into a slightly different organisation
than previously.

“However, we don’t necessarily operate on a project-to-project basis, but instead prioritise working relationships with our clients. While it’s of course important to hit targets and increase our volumes year-on-year, it’s also crucial to build a trusting relationship with customers to ensure they’re confident to return.

“We’ve worked alongside Openreach for a number of years, for example, and we’re more focused on hitting appropriate targets, like the Openreach satisfaction rate, to ensure continual growth for both companies,” he explains. “Although you might consider yourself a small cog in a huge operation, positive interactions can make a successful, longstanding impression on clients, which has a powerful impact on working relationships moving forward.”

 Training leader

Aside from high-quality products and service, Mike is also passionate about promoting education within the business. “The cable industry was new to the UK when we started, so there was very little understanding or training around it,” Mike recalls. “Back in 1995, we formed Map Training Ltd and directly employed our people, rather than subcontracting them.

“By investing in the appropriate training and providing the right tools for the job, we successfully demonstrated the correct installation. Education was really the key in differentiating ourselves in the industry and emerging as a leader in the nationwide cable installation. We’ve built on and replicated this model in other areas of the business in recent years, experiencing equal success.

“Fast forward to now,” he goes on, “and I own and operate the Digital Telecoms Network (DTN) Academy. It’s an independent company that carries out Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) training. Having been approved by Openreach, the DTN Academy completes training on behalf of Map, as well as most of our competitors, including Openreach operatives.”

Map also supports apprenticeships across Tees Valley, the region in which it operates. For instance, in 2022, the company created 15 new apprenticeships ranging from level three through to level seven, in partnership with the DTN Academy, Teesside University, and Northumbria University.

Fuelling the company’s education and training schemes is Mike’s desire to champion employees and encourage individual development both personally and professionally. Most of Map’s employees are directly employed, for instance, meaning they receive all the necessary PPE and the appropriate clothing, tooling, and vehicles to complete work to the highest standard.

“One of the most gratifying things in my career is the amount of people who have remained with the company for years,” Mike reflects. “We’ve got a solid core of people who’ve been here for years, some of whom started over 20 years ago.”

 Open communication

Mike is rewarding this loyalty by converting the company to a government-backed Employee Ownership Trust. “I’ve had numerous people approach me wanting to buy Map and quite frankly, none of them excited me because I felt that everything within the business would change,” he reveals. “Whereas there’s no forced or required changes with an employee trust, which minimises my personal worry that staff would leave or be dismissed.

“I think it will also encourage hard work because our staff will have a vested interest in the company’s operations and success. Not only would it benefit all our employees, but it also fosters stability, growth, and continuity throughout the business.

“We’re currently in the process of reading and completing all the appropriate documentation and it’s crucial we ensure everything is constituted correctly. Two of our senior, longstanding members are engaging with the trust, serving on the board as employee representatives and we’re also bringing on an independent trustee to ensure operations run smoothly.

“The key thing is that the business will remain the same, with no significant changes throughout the transition,” he adds. “Although the company will then move forward under new leadership, I hope that our clients recognise the quality and continuity the employee trust will provide, particularly when compared to an external purchase or acquisition.”

As Mike prepares to hand over the day-to-day running of the company to his employees, he reflects on the journey to becoming successful and offers his advice to the next generation of Map. “Keep it simple and keep it honest,” Mike states. “I cannot emphasise the value of open communication enough. Everyone makes mistakes, for instance;  it’s how we learn. So, if an individual makes a mistake, it’s important to be honest and communicate it, because we as a collective can sort it out before it becomes a larger problem.

“We have established a culture where everyone communicates at the same level regardless of their position,” he emphasises. “We don’t walk round with badges on stating our positions. Instead, we listen to people, talk to them, try, and understand the problem or concern, before doing everything we can to assist them.

“I hope that this continues under the employee trust, as we need to remain a positive, successful business to continue on the journey to fibre build,” Mike concludes. “We’re carrying out increasing numbers of residential installations and I hope we’ll continue to be a key partner in the changeover from copper to fibre.”