Openreach replaces 650 poles after severe weather damage

Residents in Southern U.K. continue to suffer from outages caused by severe weather, while Openreach, the fiber subsidiary of BT, has been conducting repairs around the clock to restore service.

Three named storms passed through the U.K. this February, causing widespread broadband interruption and damage to external equipment. Following the aftermath of Storm Eunice on February 18, Openreach engineers received 10 times more damage incidents than usual, at one point calculating 7,000 damage reports within 24 hours.

Additionally, over 650 poles need to be replaced due to damage from high winds and fallen trees.

Fortunately, Openreach’s backup systems mitigated some of the disruption. What3words, a tracking system that generates a unique combination of three words, allows users to pinpoint the exact location where damage occurs. Much like GPS coordinates, but easier to transmit over phone and radio. Most homes and businesses were able to reconnect to their broadband networks as power was gradually restored.

But the repair work is time consuming. In some places, work crews had to replace as many as five poles in a row by using specialist equipment. Openreach’s Emergency Response Team also dealt with flooding concerns that arose after the severe weather subsided.

The damages have caused a potential setback for Openreach. Last year, the company announced its goal to build fiber for 25 million homes by 2026, by investing $21.2 billion over five years to fund expansion. Openreach’s UltraFast Full Fiber network, which uses fiber-to-the-premises technology (FTTP), currently hosts 6.5 million premises.

Related: BT’s Openreach raises fiber goal to 25M premises by 2026

Yet coverage caps remain. After Storm Eunice passed, residents in rural areas had gone several days without an internet connection, according to the Andover Advertiser. According to the news outlet, Sally Baker, community liaison of Amport Parish Council, said that the issue could have been prevented if the village was covered by Openreach’s FTTP plan.

“Rural areas are being seriously discriminated against,” said Baker. “Issues like this with a particular cable could be avoided, and as a Parish Council we are starting to form a resilience plan.”

With higher frequencies of severe weather, network providers must remain on high alert for storm disruptions. In February 2021, when a significant portion of the U.S. was affected by heavy snowfall, major carriers like AT&T and Verizon used backup generators and redundant fiber rings for cell sites to keep the vast majority of their customers connected.