Verizon 4G Outage Keeps High-Speed Network Customers in the Dark

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-04-27 Print this article Print

News Analysis: The mysterious loss of all 4G service in the U.S. by Verizon Wireless remains unexplained, while taking out Internet access for the ThunderBolt smartphone and hotspot customers.

Sometime in the wee hours of April 27, the unthinkable happened. The Verizon Wireless 4G LTE nationwide data network crashed, taking all of the company's 4G devices with it. Who'd have thought that this brand-spanking new network boasting the latest in communications technology would simply, well ... stop. But it did. 

By sunrise customers were reporting in a variety of forums that the high-speed data access they depend on had simply vanished. At this point, the cause of this massive outage remains a mystery to the public, mainly because Verizon Wireless has chosen to communicate with the outside world using only a few brief and cryptic tweets.

One tweet explained that Verizon Wireless was aware that the LTE network was out. It may have been a small comfort to hear Verizon still existed and was capable of responding to the problem, but it offered little in the way of help to the thousands of customers who rely on this service. Later in the day we were told through another tweet that Verizon Wireless engineers were working to solve the problem. This is certainly tweeting the obvious. 

Finally, late in the day, Verizon again tweeted, this time to let the world know that it had found the problem and would try to fix it.  Perhaps it's asking a lot from Verizon Wireless executives, but surely they must know more than this. And if they don't know more, then perhaps it's time that the stockholders took a long, hard look at the management. 

Let's face it. In this day of reasonably modern network management, it's impossible that Verizon Wireless would be unaware of the outage within a few minutes of when it happened. It's also impossible that they wouldn't try to find the problem and fix it. So why share that information and nothing else, and why the medium of Twitter? I know for a fact that the company has employees who can write statements with a cogent explanation of what's going on, so why not tell us? 

The problem now, of course, is that speculation is running rampant. On one forum the speculation was that terrorists had hacked into Verizon Wireless, shut down the 4G and had stolen everyone's phone numbers. On another forum it was suggested that this was somehow related to the theft of information from millions of PlayStation owners. Somebody else suggested that it was the storms in the Midwest. One forum user thought maybe Verizon Wireless forgot to plug in the 4G computer. I might bet on that last one. 

So what really happened? If I had to guess (and that's what this is, since no actual information is available), I'd guess that there's an obscure configuration problem somewhere in the code that handles the provisioning of the 4G tower equipment or in the switching equipment farther upstream.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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