Mary G. Stokes
How to Save a Connection in Force-Majeure Conditions: Action Plan from Ukrainian Biggest Telecom
Updated: Jan 19
“Telecom connection is vital now. People need to keep in touch with each other. They should have an opportunity to call parents, family, or friends to say everything is fine or ask for help. They need to receive in time messages from state authorities. It can save lives. Moreover, businesses were also damaged because of a downtime. So, we feel responsible here and try our best to restore the connection on deoccupied territories in a tight schedule.”
Regional Operations Division Manager at lifecell
My fruitful conversation with Konstantin Sotnikov, Regional Operations Division Manager at lifecell, began with his words about responsibility, the importance of connection, and its ability to save people. It’s crucial for Ukrainians now since the first thing we all do in the morning is call or write messages to our loved ones to discover how they are and what the night was.
For some people, coverage is the way to say at least a few words from the occupied territories and calm down families.
Before the war, telecom was the central point for businesses, public authorities, and society. It supports modern technologies, helps implement new services, use advanced features and live a full-fledged everyday life. Looks exciting, but now, it’s much more important for everybody involved.
This article will show how Ukrainian biggest telecom companies are managing to withstand Russian aggression on their front. Scroll down to enjoy the insightful stories by Konstantin Sotnikov, Regional Operations Division Manager at lifecell.
How Telecom Companies Restore Connection Under Mines: Interview with Konstantin Sotnikov, Regional Operations Division Manager at lifecell
M.S. What challenges related to war lifecell faces? How does the company overcome them?
K.S. The most significant difficulty ever was to accept the situation. All of us were shocked by the scale of the invasion. Fortunately, we had a relocation plan for employees to Western regions. It was a bit easier to prepare and adapt to new conditions because of the pandemic. That crisis pushed us to switch to work from home. lifecell designed all the processes in a way to let experts and engineers work from any location. Meanwhile, we couldn’t operate without on-site employees, so some talents had to stay.
From the tech view, the experience gained in 2014 was also helpful. We’re managed to set up additional channels in Eastern regions to give us some time in case of main channels failure. We began to transfer the active equipment of the core network in December 2021 to reduce risks.
When the shock passed, and the adaptation began, we offered all the largest Ukrainian telco operators, Vodafone and Kyivstar, to open a national roaming. Everyone understands that the network is not smooth. Instead, national roaming provided the ability to make calls and even use data transmission. Therefore, the main thing was to adapt. Social responsibility and employee & contractor safety were our priorities. We took risks and tried to restore the network where it was more or less safe. The company managed to purchase bulletproof vests and helmets for our talents and contractors working in dangerous areas.
M.S. It’s quite a fascinating experience to join forces with core competitors. How do you feel about it?
K.S. As I said, it's more about social responsibility. Currently, there are no commercial relations. We understand that networking and communication are a necessity that people use every day.
In everyday life, we are competitors and use every opportunity to create a competitive advantage. But in the war conditions, all three operators and their business leaders decided that the commercial component was not in time because we needed to save the country.
Therefore, all operators joined forces and used the available resources. For example, one goes to restore the network, sees a problem with another operator on the way, and stops and repairs a competitor's network. We actively use constant data exchange and the infrastructure to support several operators simultaneously.
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M.S. How do you restore a connection? How long does it take?
K.S. We have 3 different cases. In the Kharkiv and Mykolaiv regions, we make repairs daily. Unfortunately, the network is constantly attacked. The Kherson region is wholly occupied, and our hub sites are disconnected. That is, we build new lines on deoccupied sites there. In the Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, and Sumy regions, there was a complete restoration of what was destroyed. To be honest, a significant part of our network was destroyed there. However, the network has been almost completely restored in these areas now.
Restoring communication in the deoccupied territories is also quite dangerous. We did this with the support of our military and regional administrations. Moreover, we have a commission that helped to unite us. Thanks to them, we started working step-by-step.
The first to-do thing is to analyze the situation and damages. We needed to understand the scope of the tasks. If the tower fell, then the recovery would be time-consuming. When the infrastructure was just damaged - we looked for those sites that survived and were located on the roofs of buildings or antennas at a significant height (40+ meters). Why? Because such sites provide coverage. The antennas bent to the ground provide limited coverage, but if you extend them, you can get pretty decent coverage of the area. For example, thanks to one site in Irpin, we managed to cover half of the city. When people started returning, we had coverage and restored sites that provided network capacity. The same applies to all deoccupied territories.
We apply mobile stations where it is impossible to restore the sites, and they will have to be rebuilt entirely.
To illustrate how we restore connection, I want to share one curious case. In the Kherson region, at the beginning of May, the connection of all operators disappeared. We thought it was an intentional disconnection. We have only one channel left and found out that the cable was damaged. It's a typical situation in the territory where active hostilities occur.
Most likely, an artillery shell flew there and broke the cable. Engineers managed to get there after 3 or 4 attempts under military cover and repair the line. Lots of government authorities were involved in this process. But, unfortunately, it worked for about a month. At the beginning of June, it was finally disconnected in Kherson. Therefore, we need to get to our hub site in Kherson and connect the optical lines to the active equipment to restore the network there.
M.S. Did the war become a reason for implementation of innovation?
K.S. Yes, definitely. The core 3 innovations we used are:
Starlink (kudos to the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine). We applied satellite communication as a transport for our remote sites
new antennas that can cover pretty remote areas with a small capacity. We make calculations where it can be established
and the above mobile stations. They help us restore connection faster without any superficial rebuilding
You probably think restoring a connection in force-majeure conditions is far from everyday activity, and there’s no reason to learn lessons. However, communication service providers face it frequently when fixing the results of natural disasters, working in severe weather conditions, or during wars. This experience will be helpful for you because of preparing for the most challenging situations and giving an action plan. What could be better for a telecom business than to minimize risks this way?
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