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Staying connected: How Singtel’s engineers keep our digital highways flowing

Reliable connectivity helped to keep the nation thriving in the midst of a global pandemic.

Staying connected: How Singtel’s engineers keep our digital highways flowing

Ever vigilant, Singtel's team of engineers ensured that even through the circuit breaker, families could stay connected and life could carry on. Photos: Mediacorp

2020 was an unprecedented year for all. As lives changed drastically, digital technology played a key role in helping many adjust to a new normal during the pandemic.

Whether it was remote working or home-based learning, a reliable connection round-the-clock was crucial. Couple that with an increased demand in streaming entertainment, video games and online collaborative tools, digital technology was made more vital than ever in helping Singaporeans stay in touch and keeping cabin fever at bay. 

Singapore’s dependence on the Internet is well-documented. Last year, the country scored the second-highest rate of Internet penetration within Southeast Asia, with 88.4 per cent of the population accessing the Internet. The nation’s dependence on its broadband providers was only brought to greater heights during the circuit breaker.

Behind the scenes, Singtel’s network and field engineers worked tirelessly to keep the nation’s lanes of communication open and flowing, ensuring all could still live, work and play from the safety of their homes.

ON THE DIGITAL FRONTLINES

Mr Emmanuel Yang, a senior associate engineer with Singtel’s core operations team, described the early circuit breaker period as an intense one, as the number of service requests surged. “It was about managing the customers’ expectations. Everyone’s usage of the Internet changed. Previously, they might have been okay with the speeds but with more conference calls and just being home, everything changed,” he explained.

Whether it was a previously unused room that needed Wi-Fi coverage or issues with connectivity, the field engineers showed up on the ground to service these requests.

Out in the field, Mr Ben Lim does not just solve connectivity issues for customers. He also takes time to advise customers on optimal router placement for the best Wi-Fi connectivity.

Going to customers’ homes during the circuit breaker period, when COVID-19 case numbers in Singapore were increasing at the time, meant that the field engineers had to take extra precautions to safeguard customers and themselves. Mr Ben Lim, a Singtel associate engineer for core operations, shared that the engineers wore face shields during the circuit breaker period to ease the minds of customers.

Besides the underlying anxiety of the pandemic however, the work remained largely the same. Field engineers like Mr Lim use apps to study the layout and structure of homes, allowing them to map out homes, indicating router placements and the strength of the Wi-Fi signal relative to the router in different areas of the house.

Being on the frontlines meant expectations and demands were heightened, but the field engineers took it in their stride. “During circuit breaker, people wanted better speeds and more bandwidth so they could carry on working. As long as you stand in their shoes, you can understand what they want and also their frustration when things aren’t working,” Mr Yang said.

KEEPING THE NATION’S INFRASTRUCTURE HUMMING

Working on the back end of Singtel’s network are the network operations engineers, responsible for the day-to-day functioning of core infrastructure like servers, switches and routers in data centres.

On a typical day, they monitor the health of key systems and networks, ensuring Singtel’s broadband service remains stable and reliable. As the COVID-19 outbreak forced the world to remain apart, speedy digital connectivity became the glue holding it together.

Meet the Singtel engineers who keep the country connected. Video: Mediacorp

Network operations never sleep, and the engineers are on call 24/7, ready to handle issues that arise. Early on in the pandemic, network traffic nearly tripled but Singtel engineers anticipated this and were able to adapt quickly.

“With everyone home, network traffic jumped and we had to re-route a lot of traffic for gamers to provide lower latency. Content like Netflix was heavily consumed during circuit breaker so we had to account for that,” shared Mr Ken Ong, an IP network operations engineer for Singtel.

From the beginning of the circuit breaker, Mr Ong’s team had already started expanding the capacity of Singtel’s broadband network to accommodate the expected increase in traffic due to much longer peak hours.

On top of that, they had to account for changes in consumers’ usage patterns. Before the circuit breaker, traffic typically peaked in the evening as workers and students returned home. During the circuit breaker, demand remained high throughout all hours of the day.

“The responsibility of maintaining these networks is motivation for our team, which is a lot like a family,” shared Mr Davinderpal Singh, the systems manager for the IP networks operation team. “Singtel has the largest base for mobile and broadband users so the responsibility to keep the network up is important.”

NEVER SWITCHING OFF

Thanks to the work of Singtel’s field and network engineers, the company’s broadband service did not suffer any disruptions during the circuit breaker. COVID-19 presented a unique set of unprecedented challenges, but the Singtel team confronted them head on.

They’ve helped facilitate a smooth transition for Singapore. Adaptable, dynamic and resilient, the engineers continue to play a crucial role in ensuring that the wheels of society and the economy keep spinning in a time of crisis.

For more information about Singtel’s broadband network, voted Best Fibre Broadband by the readers of HardwareZone for the past 11 consecutive years, visit singtel.com/broadband.

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