back to article How hard is your network really, comms watchdog asks telcos

Britain's comms regulator is asking telecoms providers for updated guidance on how resilient their networks are, given modern society’s increasing reliance on digital services. Watchdog Ofcom, aka the Office of Communications, wants to ensure telecoms networks are sufficiently resilient to cope with increasing demand, and said …

  1. FirstTangoInParis Bronze badge

    Yes but no but

    Power resilience, as any maintainer will know, is important for those difficult to reach sites. Installing insufficient battery reserve is a fools choice since the batteries will be exhausted by the time people can get there, and will have to be replaced. Adding solar and/or wind charging will help.

    However Ofcom could get radical and require a mobile operator with a failed cell site to allow subscribers to roam to other networks in the area free of charge until the cell site is fixed. That should get the attention of the bean counters.

    1. Noram

      Re: Yes but no but

      Given the likes of VM are shutting off their POTS (I had to move over to a dongle on the modem last week*), and offer to supply an "emergency handset" if you're "vulnerable" I would very much have hoped that the system to have your mobile automatically work with any tower without any additoonal cost to you would have been in place already.

      Related to this is the fact that the mobile companies are determined to get everyone onto expensive contracts, evne if they just want "PAYG"

      A friend who has an old PAYG sim that he was very careful to keep in credit for his mobile he mainly uses for emergencies/taxis (he's disabled, on a limited budget and basically suck in the house) was furious that his phone provider apparently cancelled the sim without any warning to him, no message about "you need to make a call in the next week" or "you need to top up again in the next week to retain functionality" the first he knew was when he tried to buy something and didn't get the code SMS from his bank and someone not being able to contact him via his phone mentioning it in an email.

      In his case he rang up and after a discussion and the call handler talking to a manager they reactivated the sim on the old number but without any credit.

      I've since found the emergency phone I bought for my dad has done the same thing because he didn't use it for a couple of months, so the loss of physical landlines if there is a power cut means that unless you're on a contract phone there is a very good chance your occasional use mobile is going to be worthless when you need it most.

      *The "Instructions" supplied made it seem like you needed to call them if you had a simple double adaptor for your phone.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yes but no but - what provider was it?

        Which mobile providers were they that cancelled SIMs on PAYG phones? Just so I never buy one from them!

        1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

          Re: Yes but no but - what provider was it?

          I suspect they are all the same. Last time I looked at a PAYG deal (I'm on contract personally) they all state that you need to make a call/send a text every so often. Basically, if you don't use the service for some specified time (IIRC, it was something like a couple of months) then they'd cancel the SIM and you'd lose any credit. Similarly, credit won't roll over beyond set limits IIRC one I looked at was just 30 days. It's specifically to stop someone buying a PAYG SIM, pay nothing for months, and still have a working phone - i.e. if you want a working phone, you've got to pay them money every month even if you don't actually use it.

  2. heyrick Silver badge

    How hard is your network really

    Depends what you hit it with.

    Seriously though, there're a ridiculous number of potential failure points. Idiots stealing copper cables, vandalism to the hardware, floods, lightning, fallen trees, that bloke and his rented backhoe...

    ...and that's just looking at hardware, never mind hacking and such.

  3. Richard Jones 1

    Hard Was Never Easy, But Sometimes It Must Be faced

    The idiots can be such premium-grade morons, that they take fibre optic cables. However, the disrupter list is long, so it needs some management. Power-loss is a catastrophe. It gives rise to many other issues; as a result, recovery might be seriously compromised. Dead systems do not respond to control signals since they are offline. Old standby batteries are a nightmare failure, just itching to cause havoc. Seeing a 3~4-hour battery die in less than 10 minutes, is ‘discomforting’. Because something is challenging, does not mean it can be ignored, without first identifying issues, no efforts to stabilise the situation can follow.

  4. bernmeister

    Power backup

    Power failure resilience is built in to telephone systems. Backup batteries are a standard part of system design. BT however have taken a backward step by starting to phase out copper telephone connection to the home and replace it with fibre. In the event of a power failure the BT service would contine but domestic routers would fail due to loss of power. BT propose to supply backup supplies to vulnerable users.(free or at a cost?). Sounds like a short term solution. A new breed of internet routers with high performance battteries built in are in order. Hang on a minute, I have got one in my pocke. I dont need that part of BT.

    1. Adam JC

      Re: Power backup

      Even if they supplied a small UPS to 'vulnerable' folks, it's still only as good as the battery lasts. 3-5 years and it'll need replacing and I'll be damned if there's any way of monitoring these small units for failure beforehand. I honestly can't see a 'one size fits all' type solution to it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Power backup

        It's not insurmountable. Most routers supplied by operators support tr69, so remote monitoring is certainly possible.

        And there are also tests that quantify battery health. Can't say I've seen a domestic router that offers those though. Likely that will come as more routers include battery back up.

      2. collinsl Bronze badge

        Re: Power backup

        The ONT for my fibre has a battery back up in it, which consists of 4x AA rechargeable batteries. You can plug a phone into this ONT and BT "promise" that with the right service on the other end the phone will remain up for 2-4 hours.

        No reason people can't do this with ADSL routers too if needed - just drop out the wireless and networking as that's the power consuming bit but leave the phone line working for emergency calls.

    2. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

      Re: Power backup

      Also, they are rolling out fibre in my town now - just putting the infrastructure in at the moment. There's some large cabinets gone it that make the FTTC cabs look tiny - maybe 5 ft high, 6 ft wide in several bays.

      Does anyone know what these contain ? Are they simply massive fibre splice boxes, or are they active equipment needing power ? If the latter, then that makes them a SPF for a whole neighbourhood. Even if they are passive, they are a SPF should someone (for example) crash into it - or worse, "something" set fire to it.

      1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

        Re: Power backup

        Answering my own question, I took the dog for a walk earlier and went via one of these new cabinets - they aren't Openreach. Very little on them, but they are labelled Fibrus. I'm "a little excited"

  5. Joe-Thunks

    Honest answer from $telco

    Well, we were going to use Huawei. Their code was audited and found not to have backdoors. But then the government took it up the back passage from the USA. We're compelled to use something else. If we could possibly avoid it we would not use anything from the USA as that has been shown over and over to have security holes and backdoors which somehow get forgotten about. So if you want to talk security, let us use products which have been audited rather than leaking sieves.

  6. Ribfeast

    In rural Australia here, we had some floods and bushfires that took out power to the local cellphone towers. They flipped across to UPS power, and then generator power. Ran great for 12 hours, and then the generator ran out of fuel because nobody could get to the tower. The tower has point-to-point wireless connectivity to adjacent towers (too hard to run cable up the side of a mountain), so no fibre to dig up at least.

    There was also the recent Optus outage that took out banking and comms for half the country a few weeks ago due to a BGP routing bungle.

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