Broadband vanlife: the family-run fiber company that makes digital nomad life possible

Eight years ago, working as a sprinkler system installer, Adam Roy had never heard of fiber optics. Today, the technology supports his entire family to live on the road.

But unlike your prototypical digital nomad, Roy's job isn't remote. Rather, it's what makes remote life possible in the first place. With his wife, Lauren, the Roys run a fiber subcontracting company, enabling the whole family to live in a mobile camper full time — free from a nine-to-five grind.

Despite having stumbled into fiber splicing, Roy says demand for the work is here to stay. Especially because broadband internet has become an increasingly essential household utility akin to running water and heat — opening access to health care, education and job opportunities.  

“It’s not going anywhere. It’s only up from here,” he said. “I spend more time with my family than I ever imagined making a steady paycheck. And to be honest, the money is just life changing.”

Indeed, splicers in the U.S. can make around $75,000 a year on average — with many states paying well over six figures.

From sprinklers to splicing: a family-run fiber company  

Starting out in the field of fiber doesn't require a broadband background. In fact, when a buddy first asked Roy if he wanted to splice fiber, he replied, “I have no idea what that is.”

But, sweating like the sprinklers he was installing in the Georgia heat, he wasn't against learning new things — so he gave it a try. 

For seven years, he worked as an hourly employee, getting his feet wet “in all aspects of running fiber.”  

Roy recalled immediately loving the work, but it also came with a natural phase of “paying your dues” with night shifts and being on call. Eventually, Roy and his wife found themselves both burned out on their day-to-day grind.  

Adam Roy
The Roy family's mobile home.  (Source: Adam Roy)

So, they traded in their home for the open road and their nine-to-five jobs for more time with their nine- and five-year-olds, Maximus and Vienna.  

Originally, they set out with only a break in mind — both planning to eventually return to hourly work.

“We just enjoyed the mobility so much," said Roy. "And still tired of that nine-to-five grind, we threw around the idea, ‘Why don't we start our own company and see if we can get into subcontracting?’”   

And so Upstream Telecommunications was born. “It just took off from there."    

Adam Roy
Adam, Lauren and their two children, Maximus and Vienna. (Source: Adam Roy)

While Roy handles the fiber work itself, Lauren operates the business. He gives endless credit to her ability to run the books — the taxes and benefits for the family — while also homeschooling their children. His son, Maximus, already knows how to splice fiber and loves it.  

Bouncing between Michigan and Georgia and setting their own schedules, they move with the work and the seasons.

“You see so many things, form these memories with your family that you wouldn’t get anywhere else just working a regular hourly job, staying in the same place,” Roy conveyed.  

Let the work 'speak for itself' 

With massive amounts of funding funneling in for fiber roll outs, largely through the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program, there's a lot of work to be done, Roy explained, and that means a lot of jobs to make it happen. 

RELATED: Check out our jobs board for fiber splicing openings.

One piece of advice from Roy when starting out in the field: slow and steady wins the race — especially as a beginner. 

“Take your time... Quality over quantity starting out. And as you start getting better, that’s when your quantity can start to pick up,” he detailed.

Mentorship is also key. Roy counts himself lucky to have had a strong one. “He was great," he recalled. "Starting out, I would have had no idea [where others] were cutting corners." 

Some techs may indeed run a sub-par splice and take the “it looks good from my house” approach. But Roy emphasized bad habits "will only fly for so long," and the biggest opportunities will grow from learning how to do the job well.

"Make it look good, and your work will start to speak for itself," he said. 

Roy remembers his hourly days very fondly, saying it was still an autonomous job, free of micromanagement.

"It's nice having the freedom. You get sent with splice docs and blueprints, and you go out and do your own thing. You don't have somebody hovering over you."

And it's a great time to be getting into the industry, he added. Many companies are looking to bring in people who aren’t “caught in their ways” and are eager to learn the ropes — not to mention the money you can make working as a splicer.

Learn more about fiber splicing here by checking out our training opportunities here.