BT says lightning may have caused phone blackout

BT has issued a statement in a bid to explain why a fault at one of its radio transmitters caused major disruption on Saturday.

The communications company said damage may have been caused by previous lightning strikes, but they could not confirm that to be the case.

Mobile phone and landline connections were lost for several hours, and Sumburgh Airport closed at lunchtime because of the problem.

Eleven flights were cancelled and one was diverted to Kirkwall. Local businesses were also affected as they were unable to process card transactions for a number of hours.

BT said it experienced problems at Wideford Hill radio station in Orkney at 1pm on Saturday which affected services in Orkney and Shetland.

The company said engineers traced the fault to blown rectifiers and fuses at the radio station and service was restored about five hours later when all the blown equipment was replaced.

MSP Tavish Scott.
MSP Tavish Scott is demanding an investigation into what went wrong.

Isles MSP Tavish Scott, said yesterday that major questions needed to be answered.

BT is investigating the problem and this afternoon the organisation’s press office Ian Arnot provided the following unattributed statement:

“The BT network serving Orkney and Shetland is designed to provide back-up for most services in most scenarios.

“The Wideford Hill facility and other sites route traffic over separate radio and sub-sea cable routes, to provide service resilience and protection against long-duration outages.

“However, following the damage to the power rectifiers and fuses, some traffic was found to be relying on Wideford for both the main and back-up paths.

“We are investigating why this happened and working on reconfiguring the network to prevent any repeat. It is possible that damage may have been caused by previous lightning strikes locally damaging our equipment, but we cannot confirm that at this stage. We’re sorry for the disruption caused on Saturday.”

The Shetland Times has asked for more information from BT and is waiting to hear back from the organisation.


Add Your Comment
  • David Allan

    • July 27th, 2015 18:17

    And then they send out emails to say they are raising the price of line rental. Disgusting attitude by Bt.

  • Chris Johnston

    • July 30th, 2015 14:43

    Let’s put BT’s comments into plain, non-technical English.
    “However, following the damage to the power rectifiers and fuses, some traffic was found to be relying on Wideford for both the main and back-up paths.”

    The main and the back-up traffic paths pass through Wideford Hill station because BT designed their system that way to reduce cost. To increase reliability, both paths should not pass through the same station.
    The rectifiers supply direct current (DC) for the communications equipment and keep the battery charged. After the rectifiers shut down, the battery supplies the communications equipment for several hours until the rectifiers turn on or until the battery is exhausted. Service technicians are notified by an alarm that the rectifiers are shut down and must restore them before the battery is exhausted. It seems to me that the battery ran to exhaustion and then both the main and back-up traffic paths failed.

    “We are investigating why this happened and working on reconfiguring the network to prevent any repeat.”

    This happened because BT designed it to happen. A repeat is likely until BT arranges their kit so both traffic paths do not pass through Wideford Hill station.

  • Alex Aitken

    • July 30th, 2015 15:10

    BT have products on the market which enable this entity to provide a seamless service regardless of power supply failures at distant terminals.
    2 power supplies going down and not being repaired in a timely manner that is crass, it is money saving at best or crass maintenance at worst. The 999 service was available this is like saying we have a piece of string still available/
    For hospitals airports and the private businesses to be without communication for whole day Saturday the management should be sacked forthwith

    • John Tulloch

      • July 30th, 2015 19:36

      You’re right, of course, BT have got egg on their faces. In my own experience, however, where the signals pass through a single remote site, a bad lightning strike can get into every piece of equipment and destroy the lot.

      As this is the first time this has happened, such a strike is presumably, rare and it would be expensive to have a completely (geographically) separate system.

      I’m not familiar with Shetland’s communications infrastructure however I understand a fibre optic cable runs from Scotland to Faroe which Shetland is tapped into? If so, It may be possible for BT to rent emergency bandwidth on that cable as a standby for use if their own system fails?

      The weakness has been highlighted, spectacularly, and the question is, how avoid a recurrence without incurring horrendous cost? Yes, BT should have the very best protection on their equipment – perhaps, they did? – but a separate standby channel would make sense.

      When it comes down to it, hospital phones are more important than browsing the internet and it may, even, be possible to do both without anyone noticing much difference?

      I don’t doubt Shetland Telecom (name?) will be pleased to hear from BT?


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