Business Lessons To Be Learnt From O2’s Downtime

The network problems that hit tens of thousands of O2 customers on Wednesday continued into a second day yesterday. The mobile firm said its 2G network has now been restored and that customers should now be able to make and receive calls.

The widespread issues began “at lunchtime” on Wednesday which meant many lost voice and data services. In a statement the firm said: “We can confirm that our 2G network service has now been restored. Customers who were affected should now be able to make and receive calls. Our 3G service is starting to restore and customers should expect to see a gradual return of data services as the day progresses.”

It was advising customers still affected by the outage to switch their mobile phones off and on. Few details have been given about what has caused the issues. “We can confirm that the problem with our mobile service is due to a fault with one of our network systems, which has meant some mobile phone numbers are not registering correctly on our network,” said the firm.

Whilst consumers may become frustrated with a lack of signal, for those mobile employees who are using enterprise apps, having unreliable access to business critical processes has a greater consequence.

The optimists out there might argue that it’s simply a matter of waiting a couple more years until 4G and ‘Wi-Fi everywhere’ arrives, then the problem of ‘no phone signal’ will go away entirely. However things will clearly not be as good as that in the foreseeable future – and in any case, that doesn’t solve the problems users are experiencing now.

Enterprises deploying apps as part of their mobile business strategy need to overcome the assumption that mobile devices are always connected. The network failure experienced by O2 customers in recent days, emphasises their reliance on their mobile devices.

Whilst network failure may be a nuisance for consumers, if enterprises have workflow processes which rely on data being transferred between business systems and employees out in the field, intermittent wireless connections is a real problem.

The increase of BYOD has resulted in enterprises requiring applications that work across all platforms, shifting away from native app development towards web-based technologies that enable multi-platform apps to be developed much more cost effectively. However the common mechanism to provide data communication in a web app is via a technology called Ajax, and it is very hard to create Ajax communications that degrade well when there is no network coverage.

People using such apps during O2’s recent communication failure will have found that they didn’t know whether data had been transferred or not – and if they repeated the operation they wouldn’t know if the data had been sent twice. Such issues can be overcome using a reliable data transport designed for intermittent connection.

Tim has over 35 years experience in computing. He studied Computer Science at Cambridge University where he received his Ph.D. in 1979, writing one of the world's first relational database systems. He is perhaps best known for writing the operating system AmigaDOS for the Commodore Amiga in 1984. He founded system software company Perihelion in 1986, then moved on to start pioneering ISP UK Online in 1994. Tim continues to be at the forefront of technological innovation, utilising his knowledge and expertise as an independent consultant specialising in providing technical due diligence. He founded privately funded 5app in 2011.