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Openreach UK Testing Faster Harmonised Broadband and Phone Repairs

Friday, February 6th, 2015 (8:42 am) - Score 1,004

At the end of last month BTOpenreach, which looks after BT’s national telecoms network in the United Kingdom, revealed that they had launched a Proof of Concept trial with ISPs to test a new, faster and simpler engineer repair service for broadband and phone lines. At the time there wasn’t enough meat for a news story but now we have more detail.

The official briefing document unfortunately doesn’t say a lot, except for making a few vague references and suggesting that the new process would “simplify the customer experience, with a single engineering visit to fix both network and home domain issues, to remove faults and optimise broadband.”

Naturally we were intrigued; not least with how such a system might differ from Openreach’s existing Special Fault Investigation (SFI / SFI2) visits. However, being a proof of concept trial (i.e. it may or may not become an actual product), the details remain understandably limited but we do now have a few extra bits of information to share.

Openreach told ISPreview.co.uk that it’s new “Harmonised” repair programme is officially set to be tested in West Yorkshire (England) from mid-March 2015. At present the operator said that their existing SFI/SFI2 engineer visits only look at optimising speeds (among other things) on working broadband services, but do not cover repairs on a faulty line.

By comparison the new approach means that customers would be able to get a single visit from a multi-skilled engineer who will be able to fix both landline and broadband faults, uplift speeds (if optimisation is needed) and perform an overall broadband health check. At this stage it remains unclear whether the new system would cost more or less than an existing SFI/SFI2 visit.

The cost is important because one of the complaints that ISPs and consumers often level against Openreach is that their SFI visits (including Abortive Visits, which are sometimes levied even when the customer has waited in all day) aren’t always worth the sizeable cost, especially when the engineer finds no fault and leaves without performing any other checks or improvements (SFIs can cost around £150 or more, depending upon what needs doing, VAT and how the ISP balances its costing).

Recent history teaches us that just because Openreach can’t spot a fault doesn’t mean to say the line isn’t still faulty and within Openreach’s realm to fix, which can also result in future engineer call-outs and nobody wants that. We still see far too many complaints from customers who are forced to pay for work that isn’t strictly their fault (e.g. being charged even when the problem they suffered was caused by a downed telegraph pole outside).

In that respect the new Harmonised approach, where an engineer has more flexibility to look at and tackle the wider environment, could make the whole approach to resolving problems more constructive and efficient. Indeed such an approach, if conducted properly, might arguably be cheaper because fewer engineer visits may end up being required; this all sounds like a promising change.

At this stage though it’s still just a Proof of Concept and nobody should pretend that such a thing could solve all of the issues in one fell swoop. But it might be a good step forward. We’ll let our readers know if it becomes more than just a trial.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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