The industry must work towards creating an ecosystem that promotes innovation through competition to ensure development of reliable software and hardware products to address the growing problem of network outages.

The recent outage at Vodafone Germany has put the spotlight on the impact of network outages and how to prevent them.

The network outage left more than 100,000 users cut off from mobile services for more than three hours. The outage was caused by the failure of control equipment in Munich, Frankfurt, and Berlin.

However, there has been a perceptible increase in the network outages across several geographies this year. Apart from Vodafone Germany, outages at T-Mobile and CenturyLink affected millions of users and caused massive financial consequences. Earlier this year, Virgin Media recorded an outage that left its subscribers in London without internet access for six hours.

The impact of a network outage is much more now during the COVID-19 pandemic when the social distancing norms have led to a greater dependency on the communications network to carry out several professional and personal tasks. Be it remote working, online learning, banking or online shopping, the importance of reliable high-speed connectivity can hardly be exaggerated.

This means that even a short service outage can have a devastating impact on the service provider. It leads to disgruntled subscribers who can easily decide to move to the rival telcos’ network.

As the service providers transform themselves into a digital service provider to address the market needs, there is a heightened expectation of service quality and reliability. Unfortunately, this is becoming tougher, with network operations becoming more complex with the rollout of 4G and 5G and the management of massive amounts of data. The telcos are also under pressure to offer newer and innovative use cases to their subscribers.

What causes network outages?
Several high-profile outages over the last couple of years have raised concerns about the telcos’ capability to provide a reliable and consistently high standard of service.

Numerous factors ranging from human error to bad weather conditions to faulty monitoring can result in a network outage. However, network downtime is not a reflection of the telcos’ inefficient operations or network management.

More often than not, unreliable software and hardware solutions and inefficient Operations and Management (O&M) systems are responsible for network downtime. Even a minor glitch can put the network out for several hours.

In this scenario, the telcos must be free to acquire the most suitable software products to maximize their uptime and deliver the best possible quality of services to their subscribers. The geopolitical factors should not influence such decisions, which have a long-lasting impact on service providers’ business and growth.

Healthy market competition is known to spur innovation and also provide a cost advantage to the telco. The authorities should work towards creating conditions that encourage players to focus on product differentiation and quality. This is a sure-shot way to continuously produce reliable devices and greatly improve the network O&M level of telecom operations, thus reducing network outage and minimizing the damage caused by a network outage.

Communication networks form the bedrock of the modern economy. Any outage, small or big, prevents people from realizing their potential and hinders the country’s overall social and economic growth. The telecommunications industry must promote competition and ensure that geopolitical factors don’t result in the use of sub-standard software and hardware products by the telcos, leading to inferior services.