"Construction people have to see a real return on investment before they adopt, but when they do, they adopt quickly," says Dick Farris, a co-founder of Primavera Systems Inc., Bala Cynwyd, Pa. "The construction people were among the first to use cell phones extensively. They’re always traveling, always needing to stay in contact."

"Construction is a communications business," agrees Peter Lasensky, CEO of Pacific DataVision, San Diego. "It’s virtually all logistics. You have many parties involved and most of them aren’t even at the jobsite. Coordination comes down to communications."

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1. The Internet
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6. The Fax
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2. Computer Aided Design
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7. Critical Path Method
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3. Lasers
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8. Calculators
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4. Analysis Software
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9. Mobile Communications
Contractors Were Early Adopters of Mobile Comms
5. Personal Computers
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10. Global Positioning Systems
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What's Next?
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Lasensky sells systems for construction communication. He says construction companies, along with police departments and services like taxis, were among the early adopters of mobile communications when they bought commercial radio services from vendors with local licenses. "The biggest problem was [that] it was public," Lasensky says. "It was like a party line. It worked, but everybody could hear and if someone else was talking you had to shift to another frequency."

With the advent of digital technology, companies like Motorola and Nextel bought up local radio shops and repurposed the frequencies for cellular and "push to talk" communications, which privately connect pre-identified users at sub-second speeds. As networks grew geographically, services grew as well. Last year, Nextel expanded its push-to-talk coverage nationwide and recently added parts of Mexico and Canada.

Other construction-oriented features also are growing, says Daryl Newman, Nextel’s vice president of construction sales. It now offers one of Lasensky’s products as "NextMail." It collects spoken memos from users in the field and sends them as attached voice-files in e-mail to designated addresses. Daily logs can be composed and pushed to the office for transcription.

t is unusual for contractors to be in the vanguard of technology adoption, but they clearly are in the case of mobile communications and have been for decades.