Source: China State Council Information Office
We are all becoming increasingly reliant on mobile phone services for everything from business, daily transportation and entertainment, and even access to emergency medical care.
In 2020, Vodafone, one of world’s largest telecommunications service providers with operations in more than 20 countries, experienced multiple service outages in Europe, which sparked outrage among its users while raising broader concerns among industry analysts about the vulnerability of an increasingly critical part of basic infrastructure.
Network outages can stem from many different causes. They can be caused by equipment failure, software crashes or operator error. They may also be caused by sudden spikes in usage or cyber attacks. Whatever the cause, they can be costly.
According to Statista, a 24-hour service outage in the U.S. would produce an economic cost of almost $7.3 billion while the cost to the U.K. would be more than $2.2 billion. As more and more economic activity is conducted digitally, these costs will only continue to grow.
And the costs of outages can be more than just economic. For many living in rural areas, mobile connectivity can even be a matter of life and death. For example, in some rural areas a mobile phone is the only way for some to call an ambulance in a health emergency.
For these reasons, the recent Vodafone outages are cause for concern not just for its customers but society at large. As one of the largest providers of telecommunications services in the world, it is a company with much at stake in maintaining connectivity. Also, it is big enough that it can afford to have the best resources in the world. Even so, it has suffered from multiple service outages in 2020.
What can be done about this? According to industry experts, this is a complex problem that requires a multi-pronged approach.
First, critical hardware failures must be prevented. Or there must be backup plans in place if a critical piece of hardware goes down. Next, there must be similar procedures in regard to software. This aspect can also crash and procedures must be in place to either prevent this or backup systems need to be available to compensate for problems.
Finally, human error must also be prevented. This not only requires adequate training but also policies to ensure adequate staffing and competitive compensation so qualified staff are hired and retained.
Ultimately, senior management commitment to maintain network availability is the most important part of addressing this problem. And if management is not able to adequately address this problem, government intervention may be necessary.
Looking ahead, advances in capabilities such as AI-enhanced predictive analytics can support preventive maintenance and other measures to prevent service outages. But, ultimately, improvements can only be realized if senior management takes timely and decisive action that fully recognizes the critical role that mobile connectivity plays in today’s world.
Andy Mok is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for China and Globalization and Geopolitics Lecturer at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
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