On the front line: keeping the UK connected
While none of us could have predicted just how much Coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted the UK, what we do know is that staying connected is now vital. With many of us in isolation, the spotlight is on the national telecommunications infrastructure. We’re all relying on our devices for everything from getting essentials to checking on family, to communicating and sending information between emergency and utility services. Keeping connections robust and reliable falls on us – Field Service Operations.
Everyone is working day and night in the current crisis. I’m proud to see all of our teams supporting the mobile network.
Of course, there are unique challenges that we’re all facing. At Ericsson, it’s been reacting quickly to a nation using data in a completely different way in totally different places, within a matter of days.
The demand on both voice and data has grown, so it’s critical we’re out there. With our team of 400 field engineers, working day and night to manage many of the 18,000 radio and mobile network sites across the UK, we’re ensuring network operators can continue to offer world-class connectivity and coverage.
“We are certainly having to adapt to new routines and ways of working, but the response and dedication from the team has been first class.”
– Mike Lowe, Field Service Operative Regional Manager, Ericsson
We are national critical key workers, continuing with up to 350 jobs a day to maintain and even upgrade network performance to cope with the increase in demand from people across the UK. Doing this safely is our number one priority.
Working on the ground is one thing, but we also need to support the members of the team who are in self-isolation - for some of them this is 12 weeks. We’re all really pulling together to keep everyone safe and supported. Unless you’ve been part of a team like this, it’s difficult to explain the loyalties you have to each other, and it really shines in times of crisis.
Mike Lowe explains:
“One way we’re keeping people safe is by being flexible. For example, we’re able to continue with most of our regular field operations, but sometimes it might be safer to move a job to a different time of day or night to ensure the field team are safe. It’s not easy - but the team are doing a great job in the current situation.”
“I’ve been in the industry for 20 years and never experienced anything like this before. Some of these sites are very remote - there are villages that rely on these masts as their only mobile coverage so it’s important for us to keep up with all our maintenance and upgrade projects”.
- Neil Easter, Lead Engineer, Ericsson
Most days for field engineers are filled with site visits, where we maintain telecommunications infrastructure like radio towers and antennae. We do this all over the UK, from huge cities to small, rural locations. Our team have always had to adapt daily to the changing environment – it’s not unusual to have a commute that involves travelling by ferry to a remote island off the coast of Scotland, for example.
Many of us are highly trained and experienced climbers, scaling heights of anywhere between 30 to 200 metres on a regular basis. A big part of this is the classic battle against the great British weather, as high winds can often mean the realignment of microwave dishes and equipment.
Still, like every key industry, retaining protective personal equipment (PPE) has been a big challenge, and we’ll continue relying on both a mix of global and local channels to get them. In the meantime, our field teams have been doing all they can to buy locally and share equally.
Thankfully, morale on the ground remains high as ever – as one engineer put it:
“At least it’s not raining….yet!”