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Do O2’s recent outages highlight the need to have two or more operator accounts for redundancy?

Now that the panic has subsided and those suffering from total disconnection thanks to O2’s recent outages are back online, I wondered if it was time to point out the need for redundancy.

In today’s always-on environment, is it good enough to simply stand staring at the wall whilst your phone doesn’t work?

I was aghast at the RIDICULOUS Twitter messages being published by all manner of celebrities, famous folk and nobodies. The press were having a field day weren’t they? Furious O2 customers from “important” TV anchors to members of the governing classes took to social media to express their outrage.

I couldn’t help but think they were all crazy.

Running a system as complicated as a mobile network isn’t child’s play. They spend billions on infrastructure, monitoring — the whole shebang. But it’s a very delicate thing. Yes there’s redundancy and backup built into everything — they don’t call it “carrier grade” for nothing — but problems happen. You can often plan for them, but there’s not much you can do when someone takes a JCB to one of your critical buildings (See Vodafone’s partial outage last year). 

Not many network assurance teams consider JCB thievery when they’re building redundancy. 

But problems happen.

And when they do in today’s world, it makes for a fascinating experiment. 

Just how reliant are people on their mobile phones?

And just how quickly does business come to a halt when you’re unable to communicate ‘personally’ for a length of time?

What’s astonishing is that there wasn’t a real problem. It was an inconvenience if you were an O2 customer unable to connect to their network. But Vodafone, Three, Orange & T-Mobile were perfectly fine.

Of course the vast majority of normobs (“normal mobile users) are accustomed to only having one phone. On one network. Even if they went out and bought a SIM card, that wouldn’t really help. Because it would have a different number. And that’s the sticking point for most people. Their phone number. That’s the one element of control the mobile operators still have and it’s a huge, huge barrier.

The legions of complaining celebrities were hardly likely to pop down to their nearest Carphone Warehouse and pick up a temporary sim — when this would have given them connectivity immediately. But no one would know it was ‘them’ calling. No one would be able to call them. They wouldn’t be able to (easily) pick up voicemail (checking your operator voicemail from a landline is easy but beyond most folk). 

For you and I, dear reader, the situation is different, no?

According to the last survey we did there, the bulk of Mobile Industry Review readers have 2+ operator accounts. For us, this occurrence would have been a minor inconvenience. I routinely use three phones. My main number diverts to the office if I can’t answer it, and the helpful ladies take a message and send it to me immediately via email. So I don’t miss a thing. I’ve got Hullomail running on another phone that I use for my consultancy work. That neatly separates things and also ensures that I can access (and get notifications about) the voicemails on any device I’m using — desktop, iPad, whatever. 

If you’ve spent a bit of time fiddling with your iOS devices, the chances are you’ve unified your iMessage communications to use a common email address (or similar) so that, actually, you’re more or less device independent for your messaging. 

What’s your device and service provider strategy? Would you be seriously hampered by your primary operator going down for a length of time?

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