T-Mobile Sidekick data outage tests mettle of 800,000 customers, carrier

T-Mobile Sidekick data outage tests mettle of 800,000 customers, carrier

Summary: Users of T-Mobile Sidekick phones have been without data service for as much as two weeks and counting.

TOPICS: Telcos, Mobility, Outage

Users of T-Mobile Sidekick phones have been without data service for as much as two weeks and counting.

The phone, popular among message-happy teenagers but also owned by a fair share of adults, relies on data connectivity for nearly every major function of the phone, including contacts.

A week ago, T-Mobile issued this statement:

T-Mobile and Danger/Microsoft are urgently working to restore impacted services to Sidekick, and deliver them to you as quickly as possible. Following is a status update for our valued customers:

* We expect data services to begin gradually returning in the next couple of hours (Saturday evening)

* Web browsing capabilities should be first accessible first; additional functions such as IM, social networking applications and email will then follow.

While we anticipate a significant portion of data services to be restored by Monday, some richer data services may lag. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, and appreciate your patience as we work hard with Danger/Microsoft to resolve this issue. We will continue to keep you updated as we have news to share. Thank you."

Since then, the situation only escalated, angering customers who understandably care about using the phones and service plans they paid for, and not about the details in how the phones operate.

On Oct. 10, T-Mobile posted the following update, titled "Sidekick customers, during this service disruption, please DO NOT remove your battery, reset your Sidekick, or allow it to lose power":

Regrettably, based on Microsoft/Danger's latest recovery assessment of their systems, we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device - such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos - that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger. That said, our teams continue to work around-the-clock in hopes of discovering some way to recover this information. However, the likelihood of a successful outcome is extremely low.

A scary missive to users, particularly since T-Mobile, Microsoft and Danger are essentially soliciting user help for a problem that began with them.

Adding insult to injury, T-Mobile promised affected customers a free month of data service -- despite the fact that the service had not yet been reinstated.

Today, T-Mobile's trying again to placate its angry Sidekick customers -- whose service has still, as of this writing, not been reinstated -- by offering the option of a $20 discount for a T-Mobile G1 smartphone or a contract release.

Needless to say, the 800,000 or so Sidekick customers aren't thrilled.

In a final move, T-Mobile has halted all sales of the Sidekick on its site and at retail stores, listing all models as "temporarily out of stock."

This data outage -- caused by catastrophic server failure at Danger/Microsoft -- underlines the complexities of the mobile industry. In this case, the problem isn't really T-Mobile's at all, but this B2B problem is entirely the carrier's to manage, since it's been let down by a partner and simultaneously become the face of the problem.

After all, customers pay T-Mobile. In their eyes, it's T-Mobile's fault if service doesn't deliver.

Worsening the situation is the fact that T-Mobile is in the midst of ramping up its 3G data network across the U.S. The last of the Big Four carriers to do so, the company can't afford to take a black eye for its data services -- regardless of whether, in the case of the Sidekick, those services don't actually originate with T-Mobile -- much less for a phone whose expensive latest model wasn't received very well in April and, in the past, has been known as the "most stolen phone in America."

The fallout potential for T-Mobile is huge. It's only now agreeing to release customers from contract, but it can't really afford to lose any 3G customers in the first place.

To boot, the company is only just getting off the ground in the smartphone space, and though T-Mobile G1 and myTouch 3G users weren't affected, it's a public black eye for its next-generation mobile offerings.

Topics: Telcos, Mobility, Outage

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • And before the gloating over a MS screw-up goes too far...

    ...try this one on for size, regarding Apple Snow Leopard hosing ALL data when logging in as a "guest".


    • That's the cost of secrecy...

      secrecy enables you to get by just swiping your deficiencies under the rug but that can only take you so far as both Apple and Microsoft are finding out.

      I feel no compassion for them as they brought it on themselves, it's those poor ripped off customers that I commiserate with, we all have to feel sorry for them cause when they payed and payed well they believed they were buying some security.
      The Mentalist
    • What does Apple have to do with this?

      Whoever was managing the database is the only responsible party. If it was Microsoft then they deserve 100% of the blame. Apple didn't have anything to do with this. Does it hurt you so bad that your boys and girls messed up that you have to try to change the subject to be able to live with the screw up? There is no way to change the fact that Microsoft is involved in losing 800,000 peoples data. But then if you look at all of the times their OS blows up and trashes data, 800,000 is probably a small number.
    • You can tell when folk know their guilty...

      ...they spout right off and tell you even when they aren't. Nobody has gloated in anything about MS. I haven't seen anything said about the technology involved and MS just took over the company didn't they?

      You see when you're used to be the butt of jokes deservingly you go on the defensive even when no ones pointing the finger at you.
    • Your sir are sick!

      Rationally explain why are you LOL...LOL...ROTFLMAO over users losing
      data? Regardless whether it is Apple, MS, Oracle, SUN, and
      the like, why would anyone with a stable mind be admitting
      glee over personal or business data is lost. You're a sad sad
      • So many seem to be like that

        I do wonder if this place is filled with bored teenagers pretending to know about computers most of the time.

        So far, the most common, sane, response has been just head shaking and wondering just how the providers aren't equipped with such a basic thing as reliable backup.

        In fact... in the several articles I've read, the talkbacks do not seem to have much pointing fingers at MS at all, but quite a few on the disturbingly defensive about MS and handwaving misdirects at clouds, apple and basically anything else. Seems there is some serious insecurity.

        The plain fact these phones ran in this way, without a reasonable, common backup available is tantamount to sheer lunacy. Even a legacy style BU and the data would -at least- be only a day or so old which would leave the vast majority only upset about the service outage.. which, considering how long it appears to have been totally dead, is even more appalling.

        Then again, for levity sake... what does one expect from a company named.. Danger. I suppose it is possible the other service company they were looking at to provide service may have been called Impending Doom, Inc.
    • Wow...

      ...that was a stretch. You are comparing a rare upgrade guest login bug
      in an OS (which 99% of people would probably never even see) to not
      implementing adequetebackup/restore procedures for a million

      You're really trying to say these two completely unrelated events (and
      certainly unrelated to this entire article) are equal in nature? Sad.
    • ummm...

      Sorry but Apple has nothing to do about this... even if Apple is evil, they are not related to this dataloss
  • Ah...living in the world of Cloud Computing...

    ...just so safe and secure...as we are all being told by the clowns trying to foist this crap off on the world.

    Well...maybe not. :-(
    • Clouds not created all equal...

      it is wise to assess the track record of the cloud services provider before jumping in but
      quite obviously those customers didn't know about that and now they're screwed.

      Stay away from everything Microsoft is the soundest advice you can give anyone.
      The Mentalist
      • Thing is it wasn't always MS

        Danger was only acquired by MS in Feb. 2008. I'm sure many if not most Sidekick customers predate that.
        Michael Kelly
      • Not necessarily sound...

        Considering that at least some (if not the majority) of the customers were customers BEFORE Microsoft bought Danger, I don't think that "Stay away from anything Microsoft" is sound advice at all.

        I highly doubt that when Microsoft bought Danger, they said "See all of those backups? Get rid of them all." This train-wreck was moving long before that.

        More sound advice is "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket." In other words, even though people are selling you this whole "The cloud is great" line of crap, make sure YOU have backups that you can get your hands on. Don't rely on THEM to have the backups for you.

        Have a great day:)
    • It is if done right

      Obviously, this wasn't done right.
      Michael Kelly
      • The problem with that idea is...

        ...that as a "cloud" customer, exactly how does
        one know that their provider is doing it right?
  • (NT)

  • Your point is exactly the point.. ironic

    Not all clouds equal. And so what? Will Sally Secretary have a clue about what's a good cloud, and what's a bad one? I don't think so.

    That's the fundamental problem. You can take a car out for a test drive and judge, even as a layperson, if something is likely to be good or bad.

    I want someone to tell me with a straight face that non-technical people should shop for the right cloud.
    • The Sidekick disaster was not the result of a cloud disaster

      It was just a centralized data center where things went wrong because of poor maintenance practices.
      The Mentalist
      • Hey stupid...

        ..."a centralized data center" IS THE CLOUD!

        If it ain't stored locally, but on some remote server...that YOU have no control over...it's the friggen cloud.
        • Hmm... I see, signs of desperation, that's only the first step.

          The M$ crowd is getting scared... and running out of arguments too.
          The Mentalist
    • Disagree with your second paragraph

      Just as many (probably more) people get stuck with a bad car because they don't know what to look for. A test drive tells a person if they like driving it, nothing more. It won't tell you if the transmission will fail three months beyond warranty.

      Just as I cannot tell you with a straight face that non-technical people should shop for the right cloud, you cannot say with a straight face that non-mechanics should shop for the right car.
      Michael Kelly