US operator AT&T suffered a ten-hour disruption to its mobile network, even affecting emergency services, which is likely to undermine confidence.

Scott Bicheno

February 23, 2024

2 Min Read

There were multiple reports of an AT&T outage that apparently lasted around ten hours yesterday. According to Down Detector is also resulted in a spike in problem reports from all the other US mobile operators and, most concerningly of all, even affected FirstNet, the mobile network relied upon by US first responders (translation: emergency services).

Everything seems back to normal now, and outages happen, but this was a relatively big one. So much so that the FCC and even US security services have taken an active interest in case there was foul play involved. “Based on our initial review, we believe that today’s outage was caused by the application and execution of an incorrect process used as we were expanding our network, not a cyber attack,” said AT&T on its very minimal update page.

Reporting on the outage, US-based site Light Reading noted the outage twists up AT&T’s story at the big telecoms trade show of the year – MWC – which commences next week. We agree but would even take it a step further and say it’s at the very least unhelpful to the broader 5G narrative.

As Ericsson insisted in its pre-MWC event last week, for 5G to eventually be a success relies on opening up the network to third parties to innovate novel products and services on top of it. There are many technical issues that need to be ironed out for this vision to become a significant reality, such as how to bill for network access. But it ultimately relies on those third parties viewing the network as a relatively safe investment before taking such a major step into the unknown.

Many of the use-cases offered to illustrate the potential of this programmable network involve concepts like quality-of-service and generally paying for a premium slice. If even one of the biggest, most advance operators in the world, which is also in charge of critical comms, can’t assure its customers the whole thing won’t periodically go offline for several hours, then how can it convince them to pay extra for premium, bespoke services?

Having said that, outages need to be kept in perspective. Mobile networks are very complicated things – increasingly more so – that work just fine 99.9% of the time. But since much of the 5G narrative seems to involve introducing extra variables in the form of third parties poking about in the increasingly automated network, it feels like we’re still some way away from them being robust and ubiquitous enough to deliver the 5G dream.

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MWC 2024

About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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