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ISPs and Openreach Working to Improve UK Broadband Repairs

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 (9:16 am) - Score 1,323
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The Office of the Telecommunications Adjudicator (OTA2) confirms that UK ISPs have raised a new Statement of Requirement (SOR) request to encourage more data sharing for both ADSL and FTTC (VDSL2) based broadband products, which could result in a more effective engineer repair process.

At present getting Openreach or BTWholesale to correctly identify and repair a broadband relate problem on traditional copper lines can sometimes be an exercise in frustration, which may occasionally result in a situation where even repeated visits by an engineer will be unable to find the fault and this can be very costly. Over the years we’ve written various articles about the challenges involved (e.g. the SIN349 example).

OTA Statement

“Traditionally fault finding has either gravitated to a bearer (WLR or MPF) issue – namely does the [copper] line conform with the SIN 349 standard, or to a service component for either ADSL or VDSL.

Where a hard, physical, network fault can be identified then the level of success in finding and resolving faults is high. Unfortunately, finding physical faults can be difficult as problems can be intermittent or affected by external conditions or issues within the home.

These harder to identify faults can limit the options available to a CP, leading them to report problems where none can be found (CDTA – Conscious decision to appointment) or leading to them raising an SFI (special fault investigation) request.

CDTA is a blunt instrument for broadband as no information is passed to Openreach to help identify the problem, so the Openreach engineer tests the line and inevitably gets the same result as the CP – no fault found.”

The good news is that Openreach have been engaging with ISPs over this issue and recently we’ve seen a number of interesting developments come out of this. For example, the operator is currently nearing the end of their Harmonised Repair pilot that is designed to “simplify the customer experience, with a single engineering visit to fix both network and home domain issues, to remove faults and optimise broadband” (here).

On top of that a new Customer Premises Engineer Trial (Qube engineers) is being established to help “resolve broadband issues within the customer premises” (here), which would cost less than half the price (£60 +vat) of a more traditional Special Fault Investigation (SFI) visit and is more focused on broadband connectivity issues.

A recent update from BT noted how early trial data showed that, where used appropriately, around 70% of such (Qube) engineer visits resolved the fault (based on an ISP using it in volume) and six large broadband ISPs are already said to be “on board” with the service (others are set to follow).

Nevertheless the OTA notes that key problems remain with the issue of data sharing, which could help ISPs and Openreach to better identify the source of a fault. Past attempts to resolve this issue (e.g. redefining network standards or investigating different ways of packaging various products and services) have reportedly struggled to alleviate the problem.

However, over the last few months the OTA says there has been a recognition that, in order to make a difference, an alternative approach is needed to both identify the nature of the issue and better inform engineers of the actual customer experience.

OTA Statement

“This new approach requires CPs and Openreach to exchange and share data that emanates from either the CP owned DSLAM or the Openreach owned DSLAM. This data then needs to be processed to provide view of speed and stability that can be consumed by the targeted engineer which should demonstrate the customer reported issue.

The idea is that this collaborative approach should both reduce the number of speculative visits that often results in no improvement, and better inform an engineer where a difference can be made.

To this end an SOR (Statement of Requirement) has been raised by industry to encourage data sharing for both ADSL and VDSL. Openreach have also proposed an enhanced engineering trial in North Manchester to prove the ideas put forward.

This collaborative approach hopes to demonstrate that issues can be identified beyond the restrictions of the current practices. However, a number of tough challenges still exist – first is the industrialisation of how data gets exchanged, also minimum standards need to be agreed and a robust exchange mechanism needs to be set up. In order to allow all this to happen, better information needs to determined at the first point of contact with the customer by CPs.

This is a significant amount of work but if successful should result in a major improvement in finding broadband issues that cannot be readily found through existing test methods.”

At present it’s still early days for this approach but such a change could make life a lot easier for ISPs in the future. The development may also help to complement Ofcom’s new Automatic Compensation system for consumers, which must be able to reliably identify the cause of a fault and that’s not always as easy as it sounds (as above).

We’ll be keeping a close eye on this and the aforementioned engineering trial in North Manchester, once it gets underway.

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