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Coronavirus: Is the pandemic going to bring internet networks like Openreach tumbling down through all this additional usage?

Millions of us are at home and making use of the internet, but how are the networks holding up? Here's the answer from Openreach.

Openreach provides the biggest telephone and broadband network in the UK, available to more than 31.8m premises, and used by hundreds of service providers such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk.

It makes 300m telephone calls and 350m internet connections possible every day.

An Openreach engineer at work. (32507795)
An Openreach engineer at work. (32507795)

It's 25,000-strong team of front line engineers have been designated as key workers, so Openreach has introduced new ways of working to keep its people, and the communities they serve, safe as they work to keep the East Midlands connected throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Across the East Midlands, around 1,600 people are employed by Openreach, most of them engineers.

Openreach said: "In terms of capacity, our network already manages very heavy usage in the evenings when people are streaming movies or gaming.

"The types of applications that people use heavily outside of work — like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Sky Go — use more bandwidth than typical working tools like email, collaboration software or even voice and video conferencing.

"We're not seeing any significant issues across our broadband or phone network.

"We've seen a 28% increase in daytime usage over our fibre network across the UK when comparing yesterday to last week and a 74% increase on last month.

"The maximum peak traffic in daytime is between 2pm and 5pm, while the evening peak traffic is between 8pm and 11pm. This is in line with what we expected and not as high as the usage levels we are still seeing during evening peak times."

With unprecedented numbers of people now both working from home and keeping in touch with the outside world via the internet, Openreach said it recognises its important role in keeping the network working effectively so people can both work and socialise remotely.

That said, the safety of both its engineers and the public comes first and, based on the new Government guidance, it is now prioritising essential work.

  • Focus is on the repair and maintenance of connections that support critical national infrastructure (such as the NHS, pharmacies, emergency services or retail and wholesale food distribution outlets and other categories defined by Government), essential public services, vulnerable customers and those without any service
  • Engineers will no longer enter customer premises unless they fit into one of the categories above and, even then, will only enter when they absolutely must. Where it can, repairs will be completed from outside the premises — more often than not this will be enough to ensure service is restored
  • New services will only be provided where it is possible to do so without going inside unless the service is essential — for example to provide service to a vulnerable customer or a critical national infrastructure. Communication providers will help us to identify and prioritise these groups
  • It is working through any potential impact on the full fibre build programme and talking to the Government to factor in the new guidelines
  • All engineers will practise social distancing while they are at work. For example only one engineer per van
  • Any engineer showing any symptoms of Covid-19 will self-isolate and will be fully supported until they come back to work
  • All measures will be reviewed and updated regularly based on Government advice

Catherine Colloms, Openreach’s managing director of corporate affairs, said: “We know that what Openreach does is critical and connecting people has never been more important.

"That’s why many of our roles have been given key worker status.

"We hope you can understand why we are introducing these new measures.

"Our engineers are real people, many with families, and we want to protect them at all times.

"We are doing our best to balance that responsibility with our responsibility to keep the UK connected.”

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