Isolated by Covid-19, but communicated

A group of Cellnex watchmen supervise the telecommunications infrastructures 24×7.

This unpredictable isolation is a time of sadness, fear, condolences, worry and disinfecting obsessions, however at the same time it has also turned out to be an unexpected period of meditation, reading, family games, unexpected humour or simply time.

Telecommunications services are playing a fundamental role in isolation, not only in the many entertainment options offered through streaming or social networks, but also by putting itself at the service of the curricular needs of millions of students, informing or maintaining work, family or interpersonal options and relations through instant audiovisual communication.

Fortunately, as is often the case in the toughest times humanity has ever faced, it is also a time of sacrifice, solidarity and dedication to others. A legion of citizens is fighting tirelessly not only to preserve our health, but also to keep our now strange lives as normal as possible. From researchers and health personnel facing this pandemic on the front line to the cleaning staff in the red zone of the coronavirus: the hospital facilities themselves. Employees of supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, delivery staff, army, police, the cohorts of volunteers who bring food or medicine to homes where high-risk or vulnerable people live.

The basic services that cause us so much anxiety, rationally or irrationally (toilet paper vs. face masks to take just one example), undoubtedly include telecommunications services that guarantee connectivity.

Cellnex, Europe’s leading operator of wireless telecommunications infrastructures, has more than 50,000 sites (towers and communication nodes) that ensure communication by mobile network and television or radio broadcasts (it has 3,000 audiovisual broadcasting centres in Spain), specific communication networks for security and emergency services, and controls communication and security in the maritime rescue network, among other things.

Even before the State of Alarm was decreed, the professionals at Cellnex, a company serving more than 200 million people around Europe, were working on contingency plans to guarantee the correct operation of telecommunications infrastructures.

Cellnex Service Operation Centre

Cellnex Service Operation Centre before the State of Alarm

Specifically, a group of around 150 engineers and about 50 technicians, grouped in the SOC (Service Operation Centre), is in charge of the basic tasks to ensure the continuity of services with permanent assistance 24/7, evaluating the state of networks, data transmission, the operation of DTT and digital radio or the IT security of their own facilities.

At the SOC, we ensure all infrastructure services and here we are talking about critical infrastructures, so the guarantees must be watertight”, explains José Ángel Carmona, Director of Operation and Supervision of Cellnex Networks.

The main assistance centre is the Network Operation Centre (NOC) which for security reasons is divided – and redundant – into two sites (Madrid and Barcelona). It is a kind of surveillance centre similar to those run by air traffic controllers or large transport networks, where the network services managed by Cellnex are guaranteed in broadcasting activities (DTT, digital radio and multimedia services such as streaming), its own network (self-service services for the actual TV signal, for example) or third-party network service, for fibre or radio customers, with 9,000 mobile phone sites in Spain.

In a show of ingenuity, the group has even managed to establish systems that allow part of the tasks to be performed remotely, given the exceptional nature of the situation. “The high level of complexity of all the control centres makes teleworking difficult, therefore it is much harder to ‘remotise’ than any office system, but we have succeeded to a large extent”, this engineer proudly points out to explain that in just a few short weeks they managed to perform a large important of the NOC’s work remotely.

Because of its critical nature, the idea of teleworking that is widely used in Cellnex was a taboo at the control centre, but now we have overcome this reticence out of sheer necessity, obviously with certain limitations. Thanks to engineering and laboratory work, we have been able, for example, to receive all broadcast services from home.”

There are other permanent service activities which this team must be able to guarantee unequivocally. One of the most important of these is maritime communication, which Cellnex has been operating under a public order from the Government for ten years. The company provides uninterrupted radio coverage to 35 stations distributed throughout the territory to aid navigation and guarantee security with three territorial centres in each of the coastlines (Coruña, Valencia and Las Palmas). This is an essential service with meteorological data or information on possible incidents and communication with vessels with direct contact with maritime rescue.


Series or the virtual hug

Social relations through social networks, group online games, cloud-based digital content … these are just some of the many interactions that ongoing networks allow us to perform.

What would parents do without virtual classes, which have forced many to become familiar with technologies they had only heard of (Google meet or classroom, virtual classrooms, specific platforms of the schools or regions…)?

Not to mention leisure activities. One of my daughters, who is really struggling with the forced suspension of her piano lessons, is taking advantage of the huge number of tutorials of all levels on the web to exercise her fingers and soul to the beat. Two others, who are used to a strenuous sports training regimen, have found refuge, oxygen, and muscle and mental tone in online classes in zumba, yoga, jujitsu, and goodness knows how many other disciplines.

My son, with the school year now over, and with no great physical or mental needs, was looking tired the other day and, when I asked him, he told me that he had spent two and a half hours “taming a wild horse”. It didn’t take long for me to understand that he did it from a saddle set up on the couch in the comfort of his room, magically transformed into a makeshift interactive ranch from the console connected to the high-speed network.

My mother, who is naturally stoical, suffers in silence since my father died but is constantly reborn thanks to the hugs, laughter and confidences that she receives through “that video thing” on a mobile phone that she barely knows how to use, from her grandchildren, children and relatives in an empty room that has never been so full.

The illustrator @Borja_Ben_Art summed it up perfectly in this drawing from the series #IlustrandoHeroes [#Illustratingheroes] that he is performing in the midst of isolation. Without a doubt, it is thanks to these “watchmen” that we are also able to read stories such as this.

To the technicians, installers, engineers, call centre staff, IT staff and everyone else who allows us to read this message. You too are anonymous heroes


Carlos Ruano

Founder of Newsbub

Share it