Record S$1.5m fine for M1 for Singapore’s worst mobile service disruption

October 3rd, 2013 | by Alfred Siew

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M1 has been handed a stunning S$1.5 million fine – the largest, by far, for a Singapore telecom operator – for the country’s longest mobile service disruption back in January.

In causing an outage that lasted several days, the telco had not fulfilled its obligation to provide resilient mobile telephone services, said the government regulator today, as it meted out the country’s heaviest punishment to date.

Investigations by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) revealed that 250,000 M1 users could not access 3G and 2G services between January 15 and 18. 3G services were down for 63 hours 15 mins, while 2G services were disrupted for 71 hours 15 mins, it noted.

Crucially, it also said it was coming up with new audits to be carried out regularly on all telcos, after a series of breakdowns in recent years have raised fresh questions of Singapore’s critical infrastructure.

For M1, things all started to go wrong on January 15, when contractors carrying out upgrading works at a network operation centre created spark and smoke while connecting a electrical cable to the equipment.

This set off a water sprinkler, used to suppress a fire, that damaged an important network switch and caused days of frustration for users. They could not call, SMS or surf the Web on their phones.

M1 later apologised and offered free calls and more for several days. While it also said that it had been prepared for such incidents – the outage could have lasted weeks otherwise, it claimed – it must have known it had to face the music.

It now has to pay the biggest fine yet for a telco, more serious than the S$1.1 million fines that the transport authorities handed out to train companies for service disruptions just two days ago.

In 2012, SingTel was fined S$400,000 by the telecom regulator for an outage lasting over two days in 2011. This now pales in comparison to M1’s huge million-plus-dollar punishment.

In a rather damning assessment today, IDA said M1 had not carried out adequate risk assessment on the upgrading works. It also did not exercise “due care and diligence” to minimise the risks posed to its equipment and operations when carrying out upgrading works.

Nor did it have sufficiently rigorous control and supervision of the upgrading process, despite the works being carried out at a key infrastructure node housing sensitive telecom equipment.

So serious was the issue – and the subsequent public outcry – that IDA had gone to check on all telcos in Singapore, it revealed today.

The good news? All three mobile networks here generally meet international standards, and in some areas have the best industry practices, it said.

But it added that telcos could minimise the number of single points of failure, upgrade network architecture to support full redundancy, and have better business continuity plans.

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3 Comments

  1. Anonymous coward says:

    Does it seem weird that IDA is the only the beneficiary?

    • Alfred Siew says:

      I’m not sure that increasingly hefty fines are the best or only way either, but that seems to be the most powerful tool available to the regulator in the rule book (http://bit.ly/1aQuRTM).

      It’s good though that it is looking into regular audits into all telcos’ networks. We hope to have more details on that from IDA soon.

    • Jacqueline Yeo says:

      In liberalized telecoms markets around the world, the main penalty for any serious breach in provisions handed out by the regulator is a fine, so it’s not weird or surprising at all. However, this does not stop any customer of any operator from taking their own legal action to seek compensation for breach of contractual obligations. This is especially the case for corporate/business clients who may have sustained losses or significant expense as a consequence of the operator’s failure to deliver the agreed QOS.

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