James Cawston, Broadband Technical Expert
What is your role in maintaining the network and supporting customers during COVID-19?
I am James Cawston, a Sky Tech Team expert field engineer, attending properties mainly in the Cambridgeshire area. I diagnose the cause of broadband faults, and always look to repair and improve the existing in home setup. There may be a fault on the external phone line which I would report to Openreach, but the issue could also be WiFi related in the property requiring optimisation, or caused by faulty equipment which may be 3rd party, internal extension phone wiring or at the master socket. We continue to support our customers during Covid-19 by adapting the way we work as engineers to fix issues to provide service, or arranging an external network repair.
Has your role changed since the lockdown? If so, how?
My role has changed dramatically. The processes in reaction to the pandemic evolve daily, and are influenced by engineers in the field feeding back to the business. Sky have listened and empowered us to call the customer before travelling, to complete a Covid-19 survey, to find out for example if the customer is shielding, or self isolating, and attempt to resolve the issue over the phone, and make our own assessment on the day to decide if a visit to their address is safe and necessary; to reduce non-essential travel and public contact that could occur when an engineer leaves their home, such as at petrol stations. If I were to travel to site, I would not enter the property to comply with safe distancing. One of the reasons for the visit could be to drop off new equipment, to rule out existing equipment as the cause of the fault, and continue fault finding with the co-operation of the customer that I would ask to connect to the test socket. Our CRT technical department would run final fibre/ADSL and copper tests to decide if there is a fault on the Openreach network. We want to at minimum attempt to provide a working service to customers during this time. Additional internal work may still be required in the future to get the best broadband performance, that may involve our team renewing a master socket, which I can request to be scheduled for a future date.
I wear PPE such as mask and gloves when delivering equipment, and use hand sanitiser, and when possible wash my hands with soap and hot water. Our newly issued high visibility jacket reads: Sky. You need to stay 2 metres apart to save lives now.
Why do you think it is important that you continue to work during COVID-19?
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread there is a continued demand for Sky products and services. Most importantly it’s imperative that we provide priority repairs to broadband and landlines for vulnerable customers, key workers, or those who are self-isolating.
As more of our customers work from home, we need to make sure they have a reliable internet service to complete work and conduct meetings / video conferencing. Many children are now busy with home schooling, It’s important they have access to online resources and educational programmes.
With our engineers still going to work, and covering as a team every day, we can continue to make sure that the public can keep up to date with news alerts and government instructions and have access to essential services like the NHS website. It’s also extremely important that we continue to work, to maintain some semblance of normality during this health emergency. Everyone still needs to do their banking, food shop and pay their bills, especially as so many of the usual shops and facilities are currently closed. Technology is also fantastic for keeping in touch with friends and family such as smart video calling, and can help with mental health; reducing feelings of isolation and anxiety in the current climate. Its crucial that Sky continue to work, to do our bit to help our customers, and help keep the country communicating.
What do you find most difficult about working during the lockdown?
We do not currently enter the customers property, to protect ourselves and our customers. I usually prefer to be hands on, as working over the phone is always going to be slower directing the customer, than doing the job myself. We have all adapted the way we work to provide a similar level of service during lockdown. When remote working, the customer has become our hands and eyes.
I could if needed request the Tech-See support team to look into customers properties using video camera remotely, so the customer can show their internal setup, if beneficial to resolve a fault. I can deep dive and look at the history of the Sky Q Satellite and on demand WiFi mesh system, via the mesh connectivity tool, and obtain current data to compare with historic data, by asking customer to upload if possible from their main Q system, to see what might have changed since installation, and use other testing tools such as the Chrome app if required, or log into the router user interface when onsite via WiFi, and look at statistics, connected devices, current connection time etc, or access the router remotely for fibre via assurance view. We have access to Lama where we can analyse the performance history and real time, and reprofile the data dynamic line management system. Where necessary further in depth tests are carried out by calling Sky CRT technical team.
Can you tell us about your proudest moment while working during the lockdown?
I recently visited an NHS Doctor; who was experiencing WiFi drop outs, but is now able to video conference successfully from her home office.
As We do not currently enter customer homes to adhere to the social distancing, my fellow colleagues and I have been working hard to pre plan and find new ways of working with the customers to solve their issues. On my ring ahead I diagnosed that additional equipment was needed to improve WiFi coverage, speed and stability towards her router.
I dropped off equipment including a WiFi booster (stand-alone broadband boost account) to her doorstep and we chatted via mobile phone at her closed living room window, and advised the best way to install and optimise her existing set up. I used Chrome app to confirm equipment was communicating effectively, after discussing optimum placement for WiFi coverage. I Also improved sync rate considerably on the visit by asking the customer to move the router to master socket, and clip on a service specific face plate, to convert existing nte5a standard, that had recently been installed by Openreach; to minimise the interference effect of the still needed for voice extension wiring. Now performing above 70Mbps.
The doctor was extremely pleased; as her ability to communicate with her fellow colleagues is essential for her work with the NHS.
I was very happy to have this job allocated to me, knowing that I could be of some help to a frontline key worker.
I am also immensely proud of how my colleagues have gone above and beyond to find ways of assisting our customers during this difficult time
Has the response you receive from the public changed since the lockdown?
The reactions from the public prior to lockdown was pretty straightforward, with high customer expectations in place as far as the service we provide as we, the Broadband Tech Team raised the customer service bar, getting work done in a timely manner.
Since the public have been on lockdown, the responses have been mixed. Some customers have expressed frustration with fewer people in call centres to help customers, and less engineers to carry out work due to illness, and self-isolation of staff, however after we have completed jobs the overall feedback that engineers receive via satisfaction surveys have been extremely positive. The customers are made aware, and are tolerant of the fact that they need to work jointly with us engineers as we cannot enter the property at this time.
Overall responses have been positive and very constructive regarding the service we are providing during Covid -19. Many customers are pleasantly surprised that we are still able to complete jobs, and that their custom is valued.