PHILIPSURG–United Telecommunications Services (UTS) employees and management are positive following a full status check of company, staff and operations in the wake of the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the company stated in a press release on Sunday.
After carrying out as many emergency repairs as possible around the clock during the past weeks, a full assessment was made to cover the entire scope of damage and repairs needed to restore full mobile and broadband Internet service to UTS’ Eastern Caribbean islands.
The company’s infrastructure sustained major damage during the hurricanes. The winds brought down the main telecommunication tower on the roof of the Philipsburg location. This portion of the building houses the company’s core network infrastructure, posing an immediate threat of further damage from water and wind.
Immediately after the storm, work began to remove the tower and patch the damaged roof. Technicians were dispatched almost immediately as well to assess damage and carry out emergency repairs on the various tower sites throughout the island.
“I am truly grateful for the dedicated team of professionals we have here at UTS,” UTS Eastern Caribbean Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Glen Carty said in a press statement on Sunday. “Our team of hard-working, solution-oriented technicians and support staff did a phenomenal job in the face of many challenges and obstacles.
“Irma left none of our team members’ homes and properties untouched, with some literally losing everything. In spite of that fact, our teams worked tirelessly around the clock in service of our community to restore telecommunications as quickly as humanly possible.
“In times like these it becomes so very important to be able to keep in touch with loved ones. Due to the urgent situation of our customers, our slogan of ‘feel the connection’ became even more so the driving force motivating our team to provide our communities with service restoration as soon as possible.”
In the crisis situation the human aspect was not overlooked by UTS. A special team was dispatched from the company headquarters in Curaçao to support local staff with various aspects of their personal lives to allow for as quick a restoration as possible.
Personal damage was documented, insurance claims were arranged for and supplies and additional manpower were also arranged to assist the teams that worked around the clock restoring telecommunications. Many local, non-technical staff also pitched in daily where they could to support the infrastructure teams. Whether it was preparing meals, carrying out building repairs, sourcing supplies and fuel or providing information to customers by radio, phone, e-mail or Internet, it was “all hands on deck” for a true team effort, UTS said in the release.
While various teams provided emergency service post-Irma, customers can now connect with UTS as they have been used to starting today, Monday, September 25. The Philipsburg store location will re-open for regular business from 9:00am to 2:00pm daily. The Marigot store location is also expected to re-open early this week pending the assessment of a few final details.
The Cole Bay location at Paradise Plaza Mall remains closed for the moment, but remote assistance is also available through the UTS Customer Service Centre by phone, email and Facebook. This team is available daily from 8:00am to 4:00pm to answer any questions or address any other concerns. UTS’ business division is also available as of today from 9:00am to 4:00pm.
“We want to be able to assist our customers wherever we can as they try to resume their day-to-day lives and business. A simple phone call or message from a loved one abroad, or an online order to replace damaged or lost items are all steps towards getting things back to normal. You don’t realize how many aspects of our lives are touched by technology until you have to go without for a while,” Carty said.
Prepaid credit sales took place in a limited way after the passing of Irma. Various resellers still sold scratch cards and once the curfew lifted. UTS also sold credit at its Philipsburg location through a temporary sales point.
“Regrettably, we couldn’t resume top-up sales right away as some safety concerns needed to be considered and we also didn’t want our sales to become an obstacle to the authorities as they tried to enforce the curfew. Once these things were addressed, we brought top-up back on-line through various channels,” Carty said.
“With day-to-day life on the island stabilising more each day, customers can expect the full range of UTS customer service to resume in-store and remotely. We will be able to assist with tech support, SIM-card upgrades and replacements, phone purchases, bill payments, data service activations and more.”
When the roof above the core equipment room was damaged by the fallen tower of the main building, the decision was taken to switch off all core equipment. This effectively shut down the entire network to limit further damage from leaking water and wind.
Repairs began immediately after the passing of the storm to secure the core equipment as soon as possible. The enormous tower was cut into pieces and removed within 48 hours by UTS technicians, assisted by a team of engineers from Neptuno. Soon after repairs on the roof structure began, securing the core equipment room.
All core equipment remained undamaged and at present all components are back online. Aside from the damaged tower at the Philipsburg main building, UTS also has a variety of site locations throughout the islands that provide mobile and broadband service. With all sites suffering some form of damage, at present 14 of 29 mobile sites are back up and running and 14 of 40 broadband Internet sites are back online as well.
Additional equipment is also on order to allow for restoration of additional sites, which means that UTS will continue to work fulltime on the rebuilding process in the coming weeks and months.
Within the current mobile coverage areas, all local and international calls are possible, as well as mobile Internet using 3G and 4G LTE mobile technologies, UTS said. The older, 2G based network has not been turned back on following Irma due to malfunctioning of key network components. At present the company is working on the logistics to move all customers that may have still been using this outdated technology to the newer faster 3G and 4G networks instead.
“We are confident that they will be pleased with this. They will be able to do so much more with their mobile Internet service because of the faster speeds they will be able to achieve.” Carty continued. “We invite customers that want to move to these new networks immediately to contact us so that we can assess if a change in SIM-card is needed. Often it isn’t even necessary.”
With 14 sites of the company’s newest broadband technology, PMP450, currently online and more site restorations planned, the number of broadband customers coming back online is increasing daily as well. The older WiMax technology-based network suffered considerable damage following hurricane Irma. UTS is currently evaluating an LTE-based solution for those customers affected by the outage of WiMax.
“I would once more like to extend my thanks to a fantastic team that continues to work around the clock for our island. In a challenging situation they took the bull by the horns and handled the business of getting our communications back up and running and getting our islands back on track,” Carty said. “With additional equipment on the way and a clear plan to restore the island to full service, the UTS team is motivated and positive about the future of St. Maarten and the broader Eastern Caribbean islands.”
For service inquiries or questions, the UTS Customer Contact Centre can be reached at tel. 1-721-588-1010,
[email protected] or at UTS EC on Facebook. The UTS Philipsburg store location can be visited from 9:00am to 2:00pm daily and the UTS Business Division is also available at
[email protected] as well as through the business account managers.