back to article KCOM whacked with £900k Ofcom fine over 999 call handling

Telecommunications biz KCOM has been hit with a £900,000 fine from regulator Ofcom after the uncovering of a serious weakness in the company's emergency-call service. Unlike most parts of the UK, where BT is the monopoly provider, KCOM operates the main telephone and broadband network in Kingston upon Hull. But an …

  1. Slx

    Worries me a little about VoIP replacing TDM

    As telephony becomes an app on what is increasingly just an IP network, I senvdelu hope that the telcos are being made to plan their networks as robustly as the old designs.

    The old digital telephony networks were basically designed to be indestructible, even if a war kicked off and a city were wiped off the map, they could reroute calls.

    I'm seeing a lot of moves away from small, very distributed digital TDM exchanges that could do some degree of independent routing around problems. They're being replaced by reliance on large softswiches in data centres and increasingly when you're dealing with smaller providers using their own VoIP networks you've no idea what level of resilience you have.

    Regulators need to be much more proscriptive about insisting on proof the networks won't just fall over due to a single point of failure.

    1. Sureo

      Re: Worries me a little about VoIP replacing TDM

      Cost of landline, C$50/month. Cost of VOIP with more services, C$15/month. Over the same line. Fortunately FWIW have mobile as backup.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Worries me a little about VoIP replacing TDM

      We recently bought a VoIP solution from a Tier 1 UK telecoms operator. We were assured the back end was all diverse and resilient. We have diverse links into their networks.

      Then we were told their VoIP system was going down for four hours for a software upgrade. We asked about the resiliency we thought we were paying for and were told I'd misunderstood what I'd bought.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Worries me a little about VoIP replacing TDM

        "We asked about the resiliency we thought we were paying for and were told I'd misunderstood what I'd bought."

        Your managers did have a formal written specification (and the legal people an SLA worth its weight in gold) before ordering, did they?

        Or did they just have a shitpile of meaningless cotton-wool waffle about "it's in the cloud ... cloud is good ... don't look behind the curtain" and sign right away?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Meh

      Re: Worries me a little about VoIP replacing TDM

      You've most likely been using VoIP with BT for years, you just didn't know.

    4. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: Worries me a little about VoIP replacing TDM

      Senvdelu? Covfefe more like!

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Worries me a little about VoIP replacing TDM

      The old voice TDM platforms are indeed very mature and robust, and have proved reliable in service. They do have their own foibles - their failure modes are different and a localised (regional) loss of service is possible due to the hierarchical nature of the switching.

      In theory, IP-based voice platforms can better access resilience and IP was, after all, designed with a similar network resilience goal in mind to the TDM voice system. In practice, IPT is a cost saving platform for carriers and enterprises because it allows for centralisation of the call control complex and switching platforms. There is clearly a concentration risk that wasn't there with TDM voice, but it is mainly a factor of cost-driven trade-offs rather than a fundamental technology issue.

      The issue of software MBTF also arises due to the much shorter lifecycle of carrier software platforms and the rate of change and defects/regression arising. The TDM product lifecycle commonly extended to decades and any defects affecting service availability were squashed early in the platform's life.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: circuit switched vs packet switched?

        " IPT is a cost saving platform for carriers and enterprises because it allows for centralisation of the call control complex and switching platforms."

        Er, I may have got this lost in the mists of time, but carrier-class VoIP (IPT if you will) surely saves a fortune in bandwidth costs alone, because it's trivial to massively over-commit IP bandwidth and mostly it'll work after a fashion, whereas if you overcommit circuit-switched bandwith the call doesn't connect. And then there's all those wonderful compression codecs too.

        So in theory IP saves a fortune in bandwidth.

        The reality may not 100% match, bu hey, the manglement can claim to have saved a fortune, and if it doesn't work, someone else will pick up the costs.

        Like the overcommitted emergency services mobile comms bandwidth at Grenfell, for example.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    The worrying thing is that IP was supposed to have been designed to route round failures but all too often seems not to.

    1. Slx

      Well, it would it it were implemented correctly!

      It can't build its own fibre routes or data centres! It's just very flexible about data routing.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Is KCOM using IP to BT for 999? May just be a bit of (very) wet string.

    3. Warm Braw Silver badge

      IP was supposed to have been designed to route round failures

      Pretty much the only thing that IP was supposed to do was to get one short message (e.g. "launch") through a small network with redundant but equivalent connections in a finite time even when some specified proportion of intervening nodes was destroyed.

      Most people's expectation today is that "route around failures" means "maintain some semblance of normal operation in the face of failures" and that's orders of magnitude harder.

  3. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Gaucho Rasmussen

    That totally puts my given name to shame.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Gaucho Rasmussen

      I read it as "Groucho" first off.

    2. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: Gaucho Rasmussen

      Yes, I thought 'awesome' and then 'how would you ever live up to it?' I expect him to wear a Viking helmet and carry a lariat at all times.

  4. John G Imrie Silver badge

    Fixing it

    So they admitted the problem and had a fix in place in around two hours, and where able to record failed attempts to connect. OK it shouldn't have happened in the first place but I bet now that KCOM has the most resilient 999 system in the country, well that or the next fine levied on them for a failure of the 999 system will bankrupt them.

    PS as the 999 system is supposed to be resilient how does closing all the local call centres and moving into a few regional offices play into that?

    1. john.jones.name

      Re: Fixing it

      exactly

      I would be curious what happens every time a BT exchange in the 21CN goes up in flames...

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Fixing it

        "I would be curious what happens every time a BT exchange in the 21CN goes up in flames"

        I think the problem isn't in the BT exchanges. It's the emergency services closing call centres and relying on more distant ones where local knowledge isn't available.

        Worse than that; the actual service provision gets closed. A few days ago there was a fire locally. I happened to be next door. The local fire station is only a couple of hundred metres or so away so after a couple of minutes and no sound of a fire engine being heard I walked over there to see why they weren't turning out and found it deserted until someone, presumably a retained local fire-fighter rolled up in a van and told me it's unoccupied most of the time.

        We eventually had 5 or 6 appliances at the scene from up to about 20 miles away. But it's not the number that counts it's the speed of first response. A woman had been trapped in a flat above the fire Fortunately she'd been rescued unharmed before the first one arrived; a retired fire-fighter happened to be around.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Fixing it

        "every time a BT exchange in the 21CN goes up in flames..."

        Does 21CN even still exist for voice? It was supposed to, it was announced in a blaze of publicity, it was piloted on a near-insignificant scale, and then it was quietly abandoned in 2010.

        Evidence of its death was well hidden at the time, not surprisingly given the previous publicity, but there is for example this archived 21CN update document from BT Wholesale in May 2010 (the original is long gone):

        https://web.archive.org/web/20101020090802/https://www.btwholesale.com/pages/downloads/21_Century_Network_Community/Monthly_summary_Industry_Engagement_May10.doc

        "As a result of the reduction in Consult21 activities following the decision to halt 21CN voice end user migrations" ...

        "Following the announcement in April 10, regarding the halt of further voice end user migrations to the 21CN platform, including Pathfinder Volume POTS, the Consult21 working groups and expert groups associated with voice end user migrations are in the process of being closed down. These closures have been discussed and agreed with the industry members who attend these groups. The impacted working groups are listed below" ...

        That's BTWholesale for you.

    2. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: Fixing it

      The routing they set up to bypass the downed exchange should have been the failover backup in the first place...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Headmaster

      Re: Fixing it

      PS as the 999 system is supposed to be resilient how does closing all the local call centres and moving into a few regional offices play into that?"

      999 is NOT run by the emergency services, but by BT. The bit AFTER 999 is your "local" station

      And as a side note, if the 999 Operator service cannot for some reason get hold of the primary centre for your region, they go to the next one, then the next one, then the next one.

  5. michaelvirks

    KCOM still store business admin user passwords in clear text and mail them out on password forgotten requests.

    In 2017.being called out on this repeatedly.

  6. ARGO
    WTF?

    How are these fines worked out?

    KCom gets has a design flaw and fails to connect a load of 999 calls. Fine £0.9m

    Three has a similar design flaw but doesn't lose any calls. Fine £1.9m

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      Re: How are these fines worked out?

      I'm asuming its because of the scale of the problem. KCom controls the Network only in Kingston upon Hull (Pop. 260,000 acc. to Wikipedia) versus Three UK which Google tells me has over 8 Million customers UK wide. I would suggest Three got off lightly on a per capita basis.

  7. Gerry 3
  8. phuzz Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    "KCOM created an alternative route to carry traffic that bypassed the flooded exchange within two hours of identifying the problem."

    That's actually quite impressive.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    KCOM have been a "shower" for some time

    Some time in the late 90's to early Noughties they had a TITSUP for their business email at least twice due to the same fault.

    It was due to an aircon positioned above the Exchange server, leaking its condensate.

    After the P45 printer had cooled down, the server was replaced...in the same spot....and it happened a second time....

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