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M1's recurring outages signal need for review

Already holding the dubious honor of causing Singapore's worst network outage, the mobile operator suffers yet another outage this week, clearly indicating it seriously needs an internal review for its own survival.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

[UPDATE: M1 just sent an update to say its mobile services have been fully restored, however, some of its customers are still reporting issues accessing the Web.]

Thanks to my mobile operator M1, my phone is currently a dead weight, unable to make or receive phone calls and text messages as well as surf the Web. 

One of Singapore's three mobile operators, M1 has suffered yet another service outage this morning--its second in a month--and is still struggling to resolve the issue as I write this. Barely a month ago, the company was hit by a "software bug" which brought down its mobile data network for six hours. 

Today, its customers took to various social media platforms including Twitter and M1's Facebook page to vent their frustrations over the repeated service outages. I asked its company spokesperson a slew of questions including how many customers have been affected, what caused the outage, and why its redundancy and backup system failed to kick in.

He sent me a statement which was a replica of one posted on the company's website: "At about 7am, some M1 customers began experiencing intermittent voice and SMS service access. M1's mobile data services are not affected. We are striving to resolve the issue, and sincerely apologize for the inconvenience to our customers."

While the statement indicates its mobile data services are unaffected, some M1 customers, including yours truly, have reported being unable to access online services. Others have indicated that the outage appears to affect the company's 2G and 3G networks. And while some customers have regained their services, others have yet 

I've been an M1 customer since I got my first mobile phone in Singapore, choosing to support the underdog in a newly deregulated market, and this decision has served me fairly well, until recently. The mobile operator has been hit by several service outages over the past couple of years, including a three-day disruption a year ago due to a power fault. It's the worst network outage thus far in the country, and for which the company was fined S$1.5 million by industry regulator, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore. 

In a market that's highly saturated and served by only two other operators, M1 may have some room for errors since there aren't many options customers can run away to. However, the company needs to keep in mind that it remains the smallest of the three players, competing in a market that's seeing small margins and dipping ARPU (average revenue per user). As a small player, service has to be its key differentiator. 

M1 says its services have been restored, but customers are still reporting issues accessing the Web.

And its customers are becoming impatient. "@ashley" tweeted: "Hopped on #M1 prepaid 4G data for iPad. Brilliant two weeks ago. Service now down. Sign of things to come?" 

"@syazuaniehshr" sounded a tad more frustrated: "Hate M1 so much bc it's always down!!!" And "@huinatan" went straight to the point: "I think M1 should just close down."

"@MrVonsanity" said: "Why can't I receive any calls?! I want a cheaper bill payment or free for this month. Lousy M1 what happen to you?! You were good last time."

If M1 was indeed good, the signs now clearly are not. It said it had committed S$116 million into network upgrades, so the question now is will this be sufficient and how much of this will be spent needlessly on fines and compensation for customers

M1's management team needs to sit down and identify what has gone wrong for the company. And it needs to do so before it's too late. 

UPDATE 2: M1 released a statement late-evening on February 4, posted here in full:

At about 7:00am today, our customers began experiencing difficulties making voicecalls on our mobile network. Some customers were also unable to send and receive SMS or access mobile data, intermittently. 

We immediately focused our efforts to restore services expeditiously. However, the complexity of the network required us to troubleshoot the numerous interlinked network entities. This systematic process was necessary to ensure effective restoration of services. Full service was restored at 12:15pm.

M1 has recently made significant investments to upgrade our mobile network by incorporating several new network entities and advanced software features. This has increased the complexity of the mobile network.

Our preliminary investigations suggest that a call-processing software issue had unexpectedly prevented our customers' devices from registering on the mobile network. A full investigation will be performed to determine the root cause of the incident.

"We are sorry for the inconvenience caused to our customers. We take this incident very seriously, and in addition to our own investigation, we will be appointing an independent expert to conduct a network architecture and connectivity review," said M1 CEO Karen Kooi. "We appreciate our customers' understanding, patience and support, and we would like to offer our customers one day of free local mobile calls, local SMS, and MMS this Sunday as a goodwill gesture."]

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