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Covid contingencies – How telcos are maintaining networks during the pandemic

(Image credit: Image Credit: Ra2Studio / Shutterstock)

The home is the new office. It’s also the new school, the new gym, pub, theatre, yoga studio, cinema, concert hall (and more). In addition, many of us are no longer living lives on-the-go and as well as our mobiles and home internet we have rediscovered the landline as a means of staying in touch with friends, family and colleagues.

With services in high demand, network operators are having to navigate new and unforeseen challenges. Covid-19's impact on the telecom sector means service providers face dwindling retail sales, a spike in network traffic and ongoing supply chain disruption. Telecom revenues are expected to fall 3.4 per cent in 2020, according to market-research firm Analysys Mason. One of those challenges, is that high demand for services equals extremely high pressure on networks and hardware due to rapid traffic growth and changing patterns in peak congestion times.

At the end of March – and before the pandemic’s peak in many regions – daytime traffic on UK networks had already risen dramatically. BT for instance reported an increase of 35 per cent-60 per cent compared with similar days. Virgin Media saw broadband traffic surge by up to 50 per cent during daytime hours and reported that the volume of voice calls on its landline network was up 80 per cent week-on-week during its busiest period. To cope with these types of changes, operators must be able to rapidly scale their networks and maintain and upgrade equipment at speed – not an easy ask amidst the disruption to global supply chains. We’re already seeing a number of programs for deployment put on hold – including the building of 5G networks - and that budget being moved more towards maintenance of the existing networks with operators prioritising their spending heavily towards the core and backbone of the network. For example, we have seen an increase in requests for 100-gigabit equipment to support the increased capacity demands they’re facing.

Critical workers need critical communication

The solution to keeping networks maintained, is for network providers to work with partners that have a global reach, that can provide and integrate the essential multi-vendor equipment at speed. Multi-vendor equipment suppliers operate as an agile one-stop shop to source and deploy excess and refurbished equipment much faster than the OEMs can. Via such partnerships, operators can keep networks performing at optimal levels and help keep essential public services functioning, government departments running, consumers connected and businesses buoyant.

Office buildings may be closed, but other workplaces remain open. Not only that, but these spaces – hospitals, power stations, water treatment centres, processing plants, factories and warehouses, transport hubs – are the crucial cogs powering nations, saving lives, and mitigating damage caused by Covid-19. However, all of these sectors still require connectivity, and networks need to run at optimum levels, 24/7, providing a consistently high quality of service to end-users. This is a challenge, but it’s one that can be overcome by working with the right partner.

The UK government has included telecoms as one of the critical sectors in new regulations and legislation in response to dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak. This includes provision to support network operators in rectifying network outages promptly and mitigating any effects of network degradation over the duration of the current emergency period.

Refurbishing the supply chain

Sourcing new equipment, waiting for delivery, and then going through the process of integrating this with existing network architecture is typically a timely, multi layered and expensive process, with service providers having to rely on long drawn-out frameworks. We now see global customers daily coming through our virtual door because they cannot get new supplies or spare parts elsewhere. Without doubt, we have seen increased demand because manufacturers supply chains are disrupted creating long and unreliable lead times.

It’s crucial that operators can access extensive stocks of equipment from vendors including Nokia (ALU), Huawei, Ericsson, Ciena (Nortel), Juniper and Cisco, available to deploy immediately. They also need a partner with the ability to test and dispatch internationally on the same day an order is placed.

Speed and scale are important. The telecoms sector may be holding up well to current traffic demands, but at the same time (and because of the virus outbreak) additional budgets are being implemented in order to service networks under strain.

The solution then is not to continue solely with the single dimensional vendor manufacture. For more than 20 years a well-established, reliable marketplace for refurbished equipment has existed. Adding capacity, critical spares management or simply equipment no longer manufactured or supported by the vendors that keeps us all connected often only exists in this market

As with every industry, Covid-19 has brought unpredictability to the telecoms sector, meaning any outlay must be carefully considered. Operators and network providers need a reliable partner that can help them rapidly source crucial multivendor equipment ensuring they always have the parts they demand, without wasting revenue or increasing downtime when something fails.

Reduce, re-use, repair is a mantra heard among a growing number of parties in the telecoms sector, but the key to seeing out our current situation is finding a blend; A partner which can provide refurbished equipment, repair product, as well as supply products that are delivered as-new to support networks. Taking this approach means operators can come out the other side of the pandemic having maintained the key communications infrastructure that will help get us to that other side sooner.

Darren Pearce, CEO, TXO