Connectivity an 'essential service' - what firms need to know to keep operating through coronavirus

Connectivity an 'essential service' - what firms need to know to keep operating through coronavirus

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With the lockdown in the UK set to continue for the foreseeable future, the nation's connectivity infrastructure industry is playing a key part in ensuring the country can continue operating as normally possible.

For instance, when many more people are at home relying on a broadband connection to keep working throughout the restrictions - or even just keep themselves entertained if they're on furlough, the pressure on the UK's networks is greater than ever, and this means extra demands on workers to both repair and upgrade connections.

Indeed, recent usage statistics have highlighted just how vital this connectivity is. Figures from Openreach, for example, revealed that daytime internet traffic across its network reached 51 petabytes on March 30th - up from 27 petabytes for the same time period exactly three weeks earlier, before the introduction of the UK's first social distancing advice. 

That's why connectivity providers are classed as essential workers during the lockdown, ensuring people are able to maintain the vital connections they need to both work and communicate in a time of social distancing. However, while major efforts are being made to ensure work can continue, it may not exactly be business as usual for everyone.

Maintaining the UK's connectivity

For instance, one area that may be affected by the coronavirus restrictions is work that requires engineers to enter customers' homes.

Openreach, for example, has confirmed its employees will not be asked to complete work inside a property, such as the installation of new services, with a few exceptions. These include if this would leave a vulnerable customer with no form of connection, or if they are on an essential job to repair a non-working service and the customer passes key screening questions, such as confirming they do not have any flu-like symptoms.

This doesn't mean that installation and repair works will stop, as a large amount of the necessary work will be able to be completed from outside a property, so this type of activity will likely be a focus for many firms within the industry. 

Continuing the rollout of full fibre

However, while many firms will be prioritising the most essential repair work in order to minimise their employee's exposure, efforts to improve the UK's broadband provision won't stop because of the coronavirus restrictions. 

Indeed, Openreach explains it has been asked by the government to continue its efforts to extend and upgrade its network to add more capacity and deliver faster, more reliable services. This means its engineers will still be working in the streets performing activities like digging trenches and installing new cables. 

Other full fibre deployers are following suit, with the likes of CityFibre also set to continue rolling out new full fibre throughout the lockdown - not just to homes and businesses, but also critical sites such as hospitals, GP surgeries and community buildings.

The government's Building Digital UK (BDUK) team told ISPReview.co.uk that while it will not mandate any network building work, "if suppliers are content to continue to work on delivery projects, and have appropriate safeguards in place for their staff and members of the public, then we are entirely supportive of that".

Keeping the workforce safe

Of course, whatever work is still being done throughout the pandemic, it will be vital that the health and safety of workers is a top priority, and this may mean adopting new practices and equipment to ensure any risks are minimised.

For instance, many firms will need to ensure workers in the field are equipped with appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE), such as disposable gloves and face masks where appropriate. 

Other best practices include adhering to social distancing recommendations, which may mean businesses have to rethink the equipment or activities they perform. For activities which do require a home visit, this may mean carrying alcohol-based sanitisers to wipe down any surfaces engineers come into contact with, asking homeowners to remain in other rooms, or even not accepting any offers of tea or coffee.

Elsewhere, those who are out and about undertaking street works, for example, also need to maintain social distancing, both from colleagues and members of the public. It's vital, therefore, that all workers are familiar with the dos and don'ts of working in this environment and have the right equipment to keep them safe, which may include anything from carrying extra tools to avoid sharing to greater use of physical barriers.

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