With connectivity problems still being experienced by customers across the UK this morning (according to Down Detector), it’s clear that the O2 network outage has been acutely felt. After all, over 30m people were affected across the UK, including those on other mobile networks such as Sky, Giffgaff and Tesco.
The country-wide outage is due to a software error; a certificate hadn’t been renewed.
This form of code exists to prove validity, and to prevent people from spoofing your service. It’s like a small administrative check. Given the scale of disruption, it’s remarkable to think that it essentially came down to the technical equivalent of a comma.
Reading through the tweets, the frustrating and for some disabling effects of the outage only serve to dramatise our reliance on connectivity. Interviews conducted by the BBC report of individuals unable to get access to emergency help and others, working from their mobiles, unable to do their jobs. For many, the day came to a standstill. This is the first time we’ve seen other systems fail as a result - London’s Santander Cycle Network stopped functioning, as did TfL’s information signs for the buses across the capital.
But while the impact of this outage was large by today’s standards, the impact of a similar network failure in the future will be dramatically greater. Looking at the new technologies emerging and the adoption of 5G, such an outage could affect all aspects of life. Just think of payment infrastructure, smart homes or even autonomous vehicles disabled for a day or longer.
Given this impending reliance on mobile, this outage should serve as a timely lesson for operators that access to the cloud can’t be taken for granted. Fallback options are needed and some have touted mandatory national roaming when a network has failed, or open access to other networks. If human error is culpable then we would be right to question the level of regulation around what is an increasingly complex arena.
Successful adoption of 5G networks in the future will require the necessary planning and infrastructure. Businesses need to ensure their buildings are 5G ready, with landlords and developers being proactive rather than reactive in preparing for a technological future that will be here sooner than we realise. So, in many regards, thank you O2 - this was a valuable wake up call.