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Engineers with Umbrellas Protect UK Broadband Cabinets from Heat UPDATE

Tuesday, Jul 19th, 2022 (5:34 pm) - Score 7,072

A number of UK network operators appear to be sending out engineers to monitor and work on broadband street cabinets that have been struggling in today’s heat. This includes everything from upgrading vents and fans, to literally sitting outside the cabinet with an umbrella. Sometimes, the simplest solution works best.

Reports have come in from various locations today where people have spotted telecoms engineers, some of whom have perhaps understandably opted to go fully shirtless, comically pitching themselves outside street cabinets and often using umbrellas to help shade the apparatus (sometimes with the cabinet door left wide open). In other cases, we’ve seen work to upgrade vents, fans and the adoption of D.I.Y style external air-con.

Such interesting sights are rare in the UK, but witnesses report seeing such activity around cabinets that belong to a number of operator’s (e.g. Virgin Media, KCOM and possibly also Openreach). For example, one of the confirmed sightings occurred in Barton-on-Humber yesterday, where a rather relaxed deckchair laden KCOM engineer (can’t blame him) was spotted valiantly guarding a cabinet against the evil sun.

KCOM has since confirmed to ISPreview.co.uk that some of their engineers were repurposed to “visit cabinets across the region to aid cooling by shading with umbrellas“, which seems to be working because there have, so far at least, been no reports of heat damage to their network of street cabinets. KCOM said they’re currently still babysitting up to 14 cabinets, which is down from the 20 that they were initially watching and cooling.

Sources within the wider industry say that such methods are sometimes used, but usually only during truly exceptional weather events, like this one. But as these events become more common in the future, then it may be necessary to consider other – more permanent – solutions (e.g. one of the reasons why VMO2 paint their cabinets a cream colour is because it helps to reduce the sun’s thermal impact).

At the time of writing, we’ve only got some limited low-res pictures of this activity and have not yet got permission to post those from the authors. But if anybody does spot more of this activity and is willing to share, then please do remember to take a picture and drop us an email.

UPDATE 20th July 2022 @ 7:27am

We’ve added an example picture to this article, which comes from a Hampshire based FTTP network. The SFP temperature graph for this particular cabinet shows it peaking at 92.9c on Monday afternoon, and you can clearly see the impact that simply opening the door, as well as deploying an umbrella, had on that. This helps to show why such a simple solution can be so very effective in a heatwave.

One of the SFPs on this cabinet had shut down already, but thankfully the other (backhaul) was still operating.


UPDATE 21st July 2022 @ 7:13am

Openreach informs us that they didn’t suffer any heat outages or use umbrellas to protect their cabinets during the heatwave, although they’ve yet to clarify if they took any other measures.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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15 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Phil Cutland Green says:

    There’s a KCOM engineer in Pocklington.. we are having some issues in the village where I live due to heat which is bringing connections down at times. (we are fed from this cabinet) I didn’t think tea and biscuits were appropriate so I supplied a cold coke and ice-cream instead.
    We have still had some outages but I am grateful it was him out there and not me.

    1. Avatar photo P huggens says:

      I think it’s pretty awful they are working outside in this heat 40 degrees here in south it’s a health hazard . Binmen sent home at 1pm today . Bt don’t care about there engineers . I feel,very sorry for them .

    2. Avatar photo Oooh matron says:

      was he shirtless? beefcake?

    3. Avatar photo Phil says:

      He was shirtless!! but he didn’t seem to be struggling with the heat. He said he had plenty of supplies.

  2. Avatar photo Zinnia says:

    Engineers haha more like simple IT guys. England is hilarious.

    1. Avatar photo P huggens says:

      Have you done their job .I don’t know about virgin or other companies but i do know about bt . There’s a lot to know .

  3. Avatar photo Qwerty9 says:

    That graph is fascinating. Showing the impact of simple solutions.

  4. Avatar photo MilesT says:

    What they need is cheap woven plastic tarps, plastic pipe poles, nylon string, and wire tent pegs to peg out shading flysheets over the cabinets. Not expensive golfing umbrellas which need monitoring, locking down a person.

    May need some pipe clamps and sheet metal screws to attach poles to cabinets if there isn’t a convenient place to hammer in pegs and string up guy lines

    Find the engineers that have camping experience and send them out with a van of supplies to do a site specific rig. Rig up a shade and drive away. It won’t last, but it doesn’t have to and it will free up staff (and maybe kind local people will adopt the approach and self-serve a cover next time there is a heatwave)

  5. Avatar photo Phil says:

    Seems like they need better insulation so they don’t get heated up by the sun. Our front door in full sun you can’t hold you hand on the outside of the door it gets that hot, yet inside the door is cold. Same with the insulated garage door. Boiling on the outside, cold on the opposite site. It is perfectly possible to solve this problem, of course it eats into profit. Virgin cabinets appear to be so cheaply made they dent just looking at them!

    I’m also sure many Virgin cabinets were fine in the sun, as many I see have no doors anyway!

    1. Avatar photo Rupert Walker says:

      Better insulation also stops the dissipation of heat from the gear inside which is more often the problem in this country. The most cost effective thing they could do is paint them a lighter colour

    2. Avatar photo Jonathan says:

      @Rupert Walker Nope they are air cooled and the air temperature never got above ~41C, which is why opening the doors on these things worked. The issue is the internals where being heated by radiation from the metal exterior and a couple centimetres of PIR insulation would have prevented that from happening.

      Clearly a complete understanding of thermodynamics is beyond your ken but suffice to say provided the air temperature does not get above approx 5C below the max service temperature of the device then air cooling will work period assuming you are drawing in external air and venting it the environment. One would also note that insulation would also work in cold snaps to stop them getting too cold.

      All that said given the reach of fibre optic what the heck is it with critical infrastructure doing being installed in uninsulated tin shacks?

    3. Avatar photo Not quite that simple. says:

      @Jonathan I don’t want to be that guy, but this takes a very simplistic and theoretical view.

      I’ve worked a fair bit with these kind of active cabs and this cooling you talk of consists of typically a couple of small filtered, thermostatically controlled fans. Maybe 300-450m³/h total (i.e about 30-40w of fans). A typical single 20-24u single bay active cab might draw around 400-500w, though it can vary greatly. Above around 1.5/2KW active air conditioning will be used.

      Problem is these fans are not designed to run 24/7, 365 for 25 years. Even if they were it’s not desirable to be running fans in this manner for noise, reliability and power consumption reasons. As such these cabs without any insulation can typically run without fans on for a massive amount of the year, and almost always at night and such. If we fully insulated the cabs these fans would need to be a little bigger (although they sort of cope), but more importantly would need to run basically permanently. Much lower cost and more reliable/lower maintenance for us to keep them as they are. Having said that a bit of celotex on inside of the front door or left side can be a compromise that leaves most of the metal free.

      The answer is probably that a bit of both is needed if we are going to see these extreme temps more often, some more insulation and some more fans. It is a nice idea to paint them grey – but that is not currently technically allowed, this would actually need planning permission for every cab as it is at the moment (black and green are only colours permitted technically). When operators have to put in for planning permission anyway, they will sometimes elect for grey colour furniture (or just do it anyway and get away with it).

  6. Avatar photo Anon says:

    I don’t know where to start with that image, disaster waiting to happen on a sunny day that cabinet. Looks like vents bottom and top for airflow, but mix of front back and left right cooled equipment and lots of “rubbish” and kit stuffed in the rack to stop any sensible cooling.

    Outside cabinets need careful planning including locating sensibly, airflow, cooling and selection of the right temperature hardened equipment. I’ve seen too many images Altnets putting data centre equipment in cheap badly planned cabinets. My favourite was one against a brick wall in full sun with a load of data centre spec kit, the cabinet having one small fan on the door!

    Looking at the SFP even an Industrial temperature one isn’t rated for those temperatures so no wonder there were issues.

    1. Avatar photo An Engineer says:

      A bunch of boxes stuffed into one side of the rack isn’t ideal for sure.

      The placement of that cabinet seems really weird. Looks like it’s in someone’s garden going by the drop and window right behind it.

      Respect to the Mikrotik kit for continuing to work in those temperatures.

  7. Avatar photo Teresa McGaughey says:

    This type of heat happens every summer in Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida in the US. Broadband products exist that can be deployed in cabinets and remain running in heat well above these temps. As we go through climate change it seems more than a temporary solution may be required.

Comments are closed

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