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UK Storm Damage Gives BT Openreach Engineers a Busy Start to 2014

Posted Monday, January 6th, 2014 (1:58 pm) by Mark Jackson (Score 2,675)
damaged_bt_fttc_street_cabinet

BT’s national UK phone and broadband network, especially along some of the hardest hit coastal and river areas, has taken a severe battering over the Christmas and New Year period after a series of violent storms turned gale force winds, heavy rain and flooding into an almost daily occurrence.

The situation means that BTOpenreach, which maintains the telecoms network, has been forced to declare a status of Matters Beyond Our Reasonable Control (MBORC) across several regions. This represents the areas where Openreach’s engineers give repairs priority, which can often result in slower lead times for new services.

Openreach Status Update

Much of the country [has been hit by] severe weather, including gale force winds, heavy rain and flooding. The exceptional conditions resulted in damage to our network, both above and below ground and, as a result, we have seen a major increase in fault intake across the affected areas.

The damage and fault volumes we have seen in some areas due to the weather are so severe that we need to prioritise as much available resource as possible to repair to bring these areas back to BAU levels as soon as possible.

We will be monitoring the situation and will remove MBORC from these areas as soon as service can be restored to levels they were at immediately before this severe weather.”

The current locations with MBORC in place:

North East Scotland
Highlands & Islands
South West Scotland
Exeter
Taunton
Bournemouth
Southampton
Guildford
West Downs
Central Downs
East Downs
Esher
Croydon
Crayford
Belfast
Province
North Wales

A spokeswoman for Openreach advised ISPreview.co.uk that they “never take MBORC declarations lightly; all affected areas go through a rigorous governance process, and we only ever apply it to the minimum areas and activities affected by the event“.

The latest formal update from Openreach on the situation, which was issued at the end of last week (another is likely to be released tomorrow), confirmed that the operator expected the repair work stack to stand at 40,000 issues by the middle of this week before falling to around 35,000 by the end of the week and under 30,000 come the end of next week (note: this prediction was made before Sunday/Monday’s storm hit).

However Openreach also warned that some of the worst hit areas, such as Wessex, are “likely to take longer to recover“. So far Openreach’s telecoms engineers have completed 90,000+ repair and installation jobs over Christmas week and a “record number” were working over the New Year holiday, completing around 115k similar jobs.

Apparently Openreach are planning for around 175k repair and installation jobs this week but this could be affected by continued access issues to villages and towns and also the huge level of movement needed to get engineers to the hardest hit areas. Not to mention the on-going weather conditions, which are constantly creating new problems.

Despite all this, Openreach claim that lead-times for new installations are within the 12 day SLA nationally, although this obviously excludes the large number of areas where MBORC is in place; sadly there’s no similar figure for the MBORC locations. Never the less Openreach told ISPreview.co.uk that it was “coping very well despite the challenging conditions” but warned that the situation was “very fluid” because of the current weather.

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30 Responses
  1. CrazyLazy

    MBORC… aka More Blinking Ordinary Rain Clouds.

    I like the picture. Although that is more likely a picture of a cabinet hit by something given the condition of the railings it also shows, how not to build any structure that requires more than 6 inches of foundation work and not just cutting a hole in crazing paving to remain standing LOL

    • Bob2002

      I’m currently in the South West, we’ve been having non-stop high winds and rain that last last for days at a time – it doesn’t feel very ordinary.

    • FibreFred

      Ignore him Bob, we all know its been a very bad few weeks, flooding , power outages affecting thousands etc etc

    • CrazyLazy

      Yes so bad you and him have no doubt taken to a field away from the floods and got one of these http://electricpedals.com/ to bypass the shortage of power to connect to the internet and still input your contradictory response on here.

    • Bob2002

      Assuming you have access to TV news, weather forecasts, the announcement of COBR meetings, the premise that because someone has Internet access the weather can’t be that bad is so intellectually dishonest and silly I can only assume you are deliberately trolling.

    • CrazyLazy

      If you still have power which you obviously do then obviously nothing is out of the ordinary in your area.

    • Bob2002

      Apart from the bad weather … are you a complete and utter idiot?

    • FibreFred

      Don’t feed him Bob, its what he craves, or if you must please buy shares in Kleenex to see some benefit. He goes through them by the pallet when he’s on a (t)roll

    • CrazyLazy

      It is not my fault you can not comprehend if your service is behaving as normal

  2. Phil

    I am not surprise….but no metion of Virgin Media urgently repaired as I think Virgin Media cabinet is strong stood up than Openreach cabinet weakness stood up.

    • FibreFred

      Is that even English?

    • DTMark

      Virgin’s network does have the advantage of being ducted underground with no over-ground bits or poles.

      So far as the cabinets go, the one round the corner from my parents house looks like a plastic casing stuck over the top of a metal base and the bottom few inches are always exposed, sometimes there are wires hanging out of it.

      So what they gain with the underground ducting must to some extent be lost through vandalism.

  3. Rich

    Yes maybe, very wow :-p

    This is set to continue. Building exchanges near rivers was never a great idea. One of the above is on a flood warning.

  4. Unknown101

    Virgin Media cabinets are poorly built structures, the openreach DSLAM’s have pretty good foundations, that would of probably been hit by a car or large object. Virgin probably aren’t struggling as much because their only based in <50% of the country an most of those places are built up cities not even on the coastline where most of the damage is caused.

  5. DTMark

    Out of interest – I thought BT Exchanges were supposed to continue functioning in the event of a power cut.

    I ask since we have some residents furious that this wasn’t the case.

    I suggested this was because some of the phone lines were flapping about hanging off of one of the poles, but apparently it was more widespread and confirmed as a power issue. We don’t have a landline so I didn’t experience this.

    For how long is the exchange supposed to carry on functioning in the event of power loss?

    • CrazyLazy

      Good point DTMark, you being mobile though the next off topic advice you are likely to get is to conserve your power, if BT say the world is in an apocalyptic state with nothing working it must be true. ;)

    • DTMark

      We’ve only had one power cut in the last month. That’s quite good going for here.

      I was amused by the Government calling in the power distribution companies to explain the loss of service.

      I’d have thought this could be primarily explained by the approach of sticking up poles and draping wires between them which naturally don’t fare very well in strong winds.

    • FibreFred

      They should have UPS back-up DTMark yes, unfortunately we have quite a few power cuts and I’ve never known it take out the phone line as I’ve been using it whilst the power is off.

    • FibreFred

      I was also amused by the government “intervention” with the power companies, what a joke. Like they can do anything about the cause or the fix, just a show to look like they were doing something.

      Totally transparent

    • Unknown101

      Exchanges have diesel backup generators that kick in straight away, obviously these generators need topping up with diesel on a regular basis and if they can’t be accessed by a vehicle they don’t get diesel. Most of the broadband equipment in the exchanges have UPS batteries but again these only last a few hours until generators/power supply can top them up. Also most of the issues are like problems are DECT phones which most people don’t realise needs mains power to work, I always keep a cheap plug in tesco phone in the draw for power cuts

    • CrazyLazy

      So matters beyond their reasonable control equates to them not putting diesel in a generator? In addition to placing the generator in an area where you can not get diesel to it? Yes that sounds very reasonable if you are an organisation with the work ethic and common sense of a deranged person.

    • MikeW

      I thought that the primary backup power for most exchanges was a (big) bank of lead-acid batteries, that quite readily make the 50V needed for all exchange equipment.

      Then *most* exchanges have a generator that kicks in to keep things ticking over, but not all exchanges have room for a generator.

      How long?

      I’ve seen discussions that suggest the historical time used to be 24 hours, back in GPO days.

      However, the current rules are in the Communication Act of 2003, and only require a CP to “take all necessary measures” to maintain “to the greatest extent possible” an “uninterrupted access” to emergency services via the PSTN. It doesn’t specify a time.

      On a side note, Ofcom recently reduced the time recommendation for battery backup within the user-side NTE for FTTP from 4 hours to 1 hour.

      But I bet they expect more than an hour from the network side.

      I used to work on exchanges (both for private & public networks) that were designed to meet the requirements of “uninterrupted access”. The designs included duplicated power, duplicated computer control, duplicated buses, duplicated routing, etc, and the ability for ongoing calls to survive even if the processor crashed and needed to restart.

      The term “five 9’s” refers to an availability of 99.999% – which allows for a downtime of 5 minutes per year – and is a fairly standard target within telecoms.

    • DTMark

      Thanks for the info. People here were under the impression that the phone services keep on working in a power cut and that actually was one of the reasons for keeping a landline, and have had that illusion shattered. But then to rely on just one infrastructure seems a bit short-sighted.

    • Gadget

      I don’t think MikeW’s (or any other in this thread) shatters illusions. It shows how much is done to ensure telephone service is maintained even if there is no incoming mains power.
      Exchange batteries keep the equipment running immediately post a loss of incoming mains, and then generators can supply mains power in the event of a continued loss of power. No different that perhaps a hospital, and perhaps even better from the point of view of the duration of standby generator capability.
      @DTMark What was the source of the information? This links to the public information on telephone and broadband service issues https://www.bt.com/consumerFaultTracking/public/faults/tracking.do?pageId=31

    • DTMark

      I’m not sure how long services carried on working, if at all. The power outage this time was “only” 8 hours.

      I’m seeing this from some distance as I didn’t even know it had happened. I can’t use the BT page as I don’t have a landline telephone number, only one that looks like it (a VOIP one).

      Apparently the exchange – BENTLEY – does now have two generators in readiness for next time which I inferred meant it did not have them before.

  6. Bruce

    Could it be that the residents who are miffed that their phones didn’t work in a power cut situation be using DECT phones. Some people I’ve seen writing in various forums have complained about BT… It ended up being their own wireless phone which was letting the side down. I’ve seen power in exchanges go down and still work (with a wired phone)
    I’m not sure what sort of UPS could keep generating the voltage to everyone’s lines in the area. More like a backup power line (different sub station) or generator!

    • DTMark

      From the information I was given, no, it was an exchange failure.

      The primary concern was keeping in touch with elderly residents.

      I didn’t realise the extent of the value people place on the landline “always working”. People actually seemed surprised that it stopped working.

      I’d have said it was essential to have a mobile too, one of the cheap basic ones which when charged lasts for three weeks. Because the biggest risk is that the lines blow down from the poles and it takes weeks to fix them. Battery backup ceases to matter then.

      Power cuts in this area do take out the mobile networks too depending on precisely where the fault is relative to the cell locations.

      However they did not take out the EE 4G service this time, and on previous occasions have only once taken out the O2 voice and data services.

      The only people who had problems were people relying on landlines.

      I thought that BT were obliged to provide a battery backup that lasted for at least 24 hours. Is that right?

      People are Very Angry :)

  7. TheFacts

    Helpful hint – always have a car charger for your mobile phone.

  8. Litesp33d

    BT has made redundant thousands of engineers over the last 5 years and subbed a lot of the work out to some extremely unreliable contractors. So much so that they cannot even cope with normal install issues with backlogs of weeks of work.

    When an issue like this arises engineers are called in from all over the UK impacting everyone. Working new line installs are taking upwards of 2 months even in areas not effected by outages.

    This is a national outrage and nothing is being done because few know about it. For the end user is unaware that others are also suffering. Each customer is an island in this regard. Meanwhile the person responsible has a saved BTO a fortune and is now leaving BTO on a high because of these financial savings to go and work for Severn Trent leaving a massive unknown and impending disaster in her wake.

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