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Internet failures surged over the last year. According to a new survey from Which?, two-thirds of people had encountered at least one issue with their internet over the twelve months. Worse still, last week, Uswitch.com found almost 15 million people had suffered a significant broadband outage – costing the economy nearly £5 billion and 16 million working days. Unlucky households lost connection for an average of two days at a time – a catastrophe for those working or studying from home.
But these pesky outages could soon be a thing of the past as broadband suppliers turn to new tricks to keep you connected to the internet.
One of the most high-tech is the Artificial Intelligence (AI) networks used to monitor fibre cables across the country. These super-smart programs can watch over internet connections 24/7 to spot where issues are happening. AI is vital for this job because the network is so complex.
An excavator cutting a cable could knock out the internet half a mile away – so just going off customer complaints can make it hard to track down the real source of the outage.
It also helps providers react more quickly to changes in demand – for example, coping with the big trend towards working from home and streaming more video and games online.
“Covid has put the networks under a microscope,” said Jürgen Hatheier. He heads up the technical team at Ciena, which provides equipment and software to BT, Virgin Media and O2 to keep their networks running smoothly.
Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Hatheier explained: “You need software that not only keeps an eye on the devices, but that helps you to find out where the problems are. And that’s where machine learning and AI comes in. If somebody runs their car into one of those green cabinets that you see sitting out there, then a couple of people in the neighbourhood might have no internet, no TV service. You call up your provider and they would already know through their AI systems and correlation of data that something is wrong at that specific point.”
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Using his company’s software, Hatheier reckons in “99 percent of cases” the provider can quickly “dispatch the guy that is closest to it with the right skills and the right equipment, and get it fixed as quickly as possible”.
That huge surge in complaints of outages? Hatheier thinks this could just be down to people being more likely to notice being offline when they’re stuck at home.
“If my internet would have gone out during the day [before the pandemic] I wouldn’t have realised. Now people say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t do my job right now’. So even a short outage would probably be reported”.
Reassuring words – although maybe not to the thousands still stuck with patchy broadband.
Luckily, AI isn’t the only thing on consumers’ side. The networks are investing in newer equipment to keep up with the huge demand for internet access – which doubles every 12-18 months.
As more and more of the country gets fibre broadband, outages should decrease because the new tech is far more reliable.
Hatheier adds: “The government is spending billions billions into the build out of fiber to the home. And that’s going to be really the key to having the best possible connectivity.”
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