275 Deutsche Telekom network technicians are out working in the field to ensure excellent mobile connections. In this edition of our series "Here for you", we take a look at the colleagues keeping important infrastructure up-and-running: two employees scaling the heights. Coronavirus has made them adjust the way they do their work.
As Marco Steffens gets on with his work on the antennae that point skyward over the rooftops of Berlin, he is used to looking down on crowded streets and lanes. "Now everything’s gone very quiet," says the 50-year-old telecommunications technician. "And the effect is particularly eerie from above," he adds. People are staying at home. He knows what is happening in these difficult days: everyone who has no fixed connection is using their cell phone a lot, so that their mobile connection has to work particularly hard. Families are playing online games, streaming films, uploading video clips, studying online and video chatting with the whole world and his dog. And it is on all these people he is focusing his attention today.
Steffens measures signal quality, services the antennae and resolves malfunctions. It is also part of his job to make visits to some of Deutsche Telekom’s business customers. Once there, he takes care of such things as WLAN hotspots and installing mobile network coverage in buildings. Outside of Berlin, his territory stretches out to Rostock in the north, Frankfurt an der Oder in the East and Cottbus in the South.
"We fix the problem so it stays fixed"
Steffens’ colleague Thomas Rothböck does a similar job about 600 kilometers further south – from the northeastern edge of Munich to Ingolstadt and into the Bavarian Forest. He can imagine that nerves must be worn pretty bare in the households he serves: "One thing that needs to be kept right is the household telecommunication system. If you’re stuck indoors for a long period, your day is more likely to be affected by your mobile coverage getting cut off or going off-line temporarily for servicing. Even if – as is usually the case – the job of sorting this out takes no more than a couple of hours. He has this to say on whether he needs to do anything differently in these times of pandemic: "Not really, with or without the coronavirus, we fix the problem so it stays fixed, same as we always do. I make doubly or triply sure that everything is as it should be – so I don’t have to make a second trip."
The way they work with one another has changed, though, as they both explain. Like many others who travel about in the field for Deutsche Telekom, they usually work on their own. They are professional technicians and tower climbers. But in complicated cases, they combine into teams of two or three for safety reasons. In such cases, they climb antennae, which can reach 100 meters in height, in groups of at least two, carrying their tools and materials along with them. As Steffens tells us, "we’re now following new rules for such work. We no longer climb one straight after another: we have to keep a few meters’ distance between us. That gives whoever gets up to the platform first a bit more time. He has the space to prepare his workspace and to set up his tools – and nobody gets in anyone else’s way."
Putting a stop to the quick coffee on the go
And what happens when you have to gain access through multi-floor apartment blocks, hotels and public buildings, going up to an antenna on the roof by elevator, for example? We technicians travel in elevators one-by-one, and we lay our tool bags down between the elevator and the door to let any residents who want to use it know we’re there. "That stops people from using the elevator and gives us the chance to politely ask them to wait for the next trip," explains Steffens. And they only enter household utility rooms containing mobile technology one by one – in basements, for example.
And where teamwork is absolutely required, it is now always done by the same three co-workers together, while previously groups would have been formed on the go. "The approach follows the logic of preventing a larger circle of people from being directly endangered if one of a group should become infected," says Thomas Rothböck, who also does voluntary work for the fire brigade and the Red Cross.
And all our co-workers stick to the rule of keeping at least 1.5 meters apart. "Sometimes it can be an effort to remember the rules – to avoid even shaking hands or looking over each other’s shoulders to see a reading displayed on a small monitor," says Rothböck "Little things that colleagues used to do together have fallen by the wayside, like sharing a quick coffee." One thing is clear, though: the importance to customers of the commitment shown by Marco Steffens and Thomas Rothböck, along with around 20,000 other Deutsche Telekom network technicians has become even clearer in these times of coronavirus. But neither of them allow the virus to affect their attitude to their job: "You learn a lot, move around a lot, resolve problems - there’s lots of variety."