Making broadband fault frustration a thing of the past


Fibre leadership

Making broadband fault frustration a thing of the past

While the last ten years has seen our reliance on the internet deepen and the applications that depend on it become more sophisticated, the service standards of yesteryear have sadly persisted. Matt Walker, Director of Customer Delivery and Assurance believes meaningful change is possible and explains how CityFibre is leading the way.

20 July 2023

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Whether you spend your days on back-to-back video calls, monitor your security and heating with connected cameras and devices, or smart-manage your energy consumption to reduce your cost of living, a broadband connection that just works and keeps on working, is now vital. But this also means that if something goes awry, the frustration of reporting a fault and waiting days for a repair also needs to become a distant memory.

All of this and more, is why CityFibre is on a mission to eradicate all but the rarest need for anyone to contact their ISP about a fault or performance issue on its network. As a concept in our industry, proactive repair isn’t new, but achieving it to a point where ISPs can rely on it and reallocate resources elsewhere, presents some big hurdles. That’s exactly the kind of challenge that has CityFibre’s name all over it though!

When things go wrong…

A broadband connection can fail for all sorts of reasons. It could be the result of accidental damage when laying or repairing other infrastructure, or even overzealous gardening that sees a spade smash a wall box. What happens next though, is where we’re working to stand out from the crowd, and so far, we’re seeing some fantastic results.

Typically, when something isn’t working, an impacted customer notifies their ISP. The ISP then spends time triaging the issue to see if there is a simple fix. This stage can take 35-40 minutes, and if things can’t be resolved, a trouble report gets raised to the network operator who often despatches an engineer.

While this reactive approach finds and fixes the problem eventually, it is inefficient, labour-intensive and the polar-opposite of customer-friendly. It puts the onus on the end customer to report the fault, describe everything they are experiencing and even try a bunch of suggestions. Handling issues in this way is part of the reason UK customers who experience a broadband fault, can be without service for three to five days – or sometimes more. This is despite the majority of ‘trouble reports’ that we see typically only take an hour of engineering time to fix.

None of us would accept this without complaint if it was our water or gas supply pipe that failed, and we shouldn’t be expecting people to accept this as standard for their broadband service either.

From ‘waiting in’ to ‘getting on’

Thanks to our modern built systems and diagnostics, we have always had the ability to proactively monitor our fibre network and see faults as they happen. What’s new is that over the last five months, we’ve worked with a number of ISP partners to develop and trial an innovative new platform to enable proactive fault repair.

The platform is designed to ensure that as soon as a service outage ‘red flag incident’ happens on our network, ‘Auto Create’ and ‘Auto Resolve’ incident responses are activated. This allows us to begin investigating and resolving the issue almost immediately, while notifying our ISP partners and end-customers in parallel that something’s up and we’re already on the case.

The results of early trials underway since February are nothing short of impressive. Over half of the proactively managed faults identified during the trial have been fixed on the same day, meaning service loss is only a few hours, rather than that three-to-five-day industry average.

The ISP partners who started trialling this with us in one city immediately saw the benefits of this for their customers and agreed to extend to eight locations within a matter of months.

It’s not just about end customer experience benefits though. Operationally, ISPs have been able to redirect human time spent on triaging connectivity issues to other important areas. And because we look for the source of the issue, we can often identify when problems are related to ISPs own equipment too, for example their Wi-Fi router.

The combination of commonly defined datasets, accurate real time diagnostic information and high levels of process automation is delivering something that operators of legacy networks cannot currently match. The automation element enables us to react quickly and appropriately, but it also improves accuracy and reduces the potential for human error caused by lack of knowledge or experience.

Preparing for expansion

With a collaboratively created proof-of-concept in place, we’re now preparing to scale up and expand out. Next steps are keenly supported by our ISP trial partners, who have already adjusted their in-house processes to maximise the platform’s benefits. We’ve also engaged with additional ISP partners who are keen to participate. In addition to scaling up our proactive repair capability, our roadmap also includes predictive maintenance. The platform can already see if parts of the network are degrading, so preventing faults before they even happen is in our armoury.

At the heart of our mission are customers who need and deserve the most reliable and robust network we can deliver. Benefits are felt by all though. The more improvement we can deliver through smart automation, the more power we and our partners have to help keep consumer prices low. And, the more successful CityFibre is, the more we drive others to follow our lead; ultimately bringing benefits to consumers nationwide and further enabling our digital economy to flourish.