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Copper-bottomed network resilience: where cable theft meets it match


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Visitors to our offices are sometimes surprised to find one of the monitoring screens in our 24/7  Service Management Centre is running Sky News. Is this some mysterious motivational technique? I’m afraid not. It’s much more mundane than that – it’s just one of the many ways we keep tabs on what’s happening on our network.  In fact we’ve been doing it for years – the London bombings, for example, were quickly identified via the news channel as being the reason our monitoring systems were showing disruption on our network.

More recently, an increasingly frequent  issue covered in the news is that of cable theft. Take just two recent examples:
Last week saw 81 operations cancelled at Llandough hospital near Cardiff after thieves stole 100m of copper cabling from a back-up generator.
A  1.2 mile stretch of major dual carriageway into Leeds was plunged into darkness after thieves stole £200,000 of street lighting cable in a series of raids over a 4-week period in November.
As these examples hint at, there is no specifically targeted sector for metal theft, the monetary value of copper  – or indeed other metal – outweighing any other consideration in the thieves’ minds. It’s simply a case of where there’s metal there’s a target.

Back to our news-watching.  In many places Redcentric’s private fibre network runs along the same pipe as the copper cables used in the train and utility companies’ electrical cabling. These are laid along railway tracks, major road routes etc.

Network Rail recently announced that the UK suffers six cable thefts a day, while the Energy Networks Association estimates that there are 700 incidents of metal theft against the energy networks each month. So when we see news such as trains being delayed because of trouble on a particular line, we immediately think “cable theft”. And although the copper thieves have no interest in our fibre, unfortunately they rip the whole pipe up – copper, cable, fibre, the lot.

Do you need to worry?

I should say here, that the good news for our customers is that you don’t need to worry about losing access to our network or about power outages in our data centres. In addition to the fact that we use leading monitoring equipment, building management systems and highly experienced engineers:

Our network is highly resilient and has undergone significant investment so that is able to withstand multiple concurrent failures, and automatically reroutes traffic in the event of a break.

Our data centres incorporate high-quality UPS and dual power supplier systems to prevent any power outages affecting service.

With the Association of Chief Police Officers estimating metal theft to be costing the domestic economy upwards of £770 million, the safe passage of the Metal Theft Bill through the House of Commons on 15 November 2011 is good news. It proposes a robust licensing scheme for scrap metal yards, tough sentences for those in breach of the scheme and the end to cash payments. But in the meantime we’ll keep monitoring our network 24 hours a day and, of course, watching the news.



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