x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Etisalat apologises for surprise cable visits

Some residents returned to find a new, faster internet box had been installed in their flats without their knowledge or consent.

ABU DHABI // Etisalat has apologised for causing "unintended inconvenience" to customers after sending 2,000 technicians to customers' homes unannounced to carry out internet upgrades meant to revolutionise the city's telecoms infrastructure.

Residents were baffled when crews appeared at their doors, requesting entry to set up fibre-optic connections. Etisalat described its new "fibre to the home" (FTTH) technology as "the network of the future". But to install it required direct access to customers' homes, often unannounced. Etisalat said it was committed to making Abu Dhabi the first capital city in the world to be fully connected through fibre-optic cable. Around 400,000 homes in the capital are now fibre-equipped and Etisalat said it planned to hook up the entire country by 2011.

"It is a huge undertaking that has been planned and executed with some unintended inconvenience to some customers," it said. Many subscribers welcomed the promise of faster internet, but said they knew nothing about the free improvements. Some even refused to allow the workers inside. In some cases residents said they discovered that Etisalat contractors had nonetheless entered their homes while they were out only upon returning home.

In one case, a tenant who was not an Etisalat subscriber returned home to see a new fibre-optic terminal mounted to her wall. She learned later that the building caretaker, who held her spare key, had allowed an Etisalat crew to install it without her knowledge. Etisalat acknowledged that residents may have been confused about the impromptu housecalls. "We apologise for any inconvenience caused to customers due [to] not being able to schedule the visit with prior notification," the company said in a statement.

It said it had "made efforts to announce the arrival [of] FTTH" and that "we have put notices and posters on visible places in the entry lobbies of buildings and have been co-ordinating with the building or security managers". Gheenwa Fahat, 32, who lives in al Mussala district, let the technicians in after inspecting their company identification and ensuring they were accompanied by her building's caretaker. The work lasted two hours.

"If I was alone, I would not have let them come in," she said. "I was surprised to have them ringing the doorbell at about 10.30am last week. My babies were sleeping." Although Mrs Fahat said the technicians were clean, tidy and polite, she wondered why no one had informed her they were coming. Nakhleh M, 23, a construction worker from Syria, was perplexed when he noticed a new cable box in his flat last month. "We called our company and asked what happened. They told us the head office let them inside." He said he was not upset by the intrusion, but it might have been a problem if they did the same in a woman's flat.

Although the modifications are not compulsory, Etisalat said, "The existing phone, DSL and TV will remain on for some time before being decommissioned, but [the clients] will not be able to get benefits from the latest technology." Muhammed, an Etisalat technician, said customers could have their internet cut off in two weeks unless they agreed to the free upgrade, which takes between 15 minutes and two hours

Joe Javier, Muhammed's manager, noted that notices should have been posted in building lobbies. "We are working building by building," he said. "How can we make an appointment?" He added that all the technicians wore identity cards.Residents could call to arrange a more convenient time, he said. When the new network is switched on, it will offer internet speeds of up to 100 megabits per second (mbps), against 4mbps with the old DSL or cable technologies. At 100mbps, a film can be downloaded in under a minute. At 4mbps, it would take more than 20 minutes. The fibres will also be able to carry more high-definition television channels.

"We hope that in the end all of our valued customers will see that the minor disturbance was worthwhile due to the new services they will be able to enjoy." mkwong@thenational.ae