T-Mobile users still reeling from outage

Customers affected by a widespread outage Tuesday share their grievances over both the technical issues and the way that the carrier handled the matter.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
4 min read

T-Mobile customers are still seething after a major outage on Tuesday that left many people across the country unable to text and call their friends and business associates.

The outage, which started Tuesday afternoon and lasted through the evening before being resolved, affected a wide swath of users, though T-Mobile said that only 5 percent of customers were affected. T-Mobile has yet to say what caused the problems.

"Our sole focus during the service disruption on Tuesday was to quickly restore normal service to affected customers," T-Mobile said in a statement on Wednesday. "We are now working to determine the root cause and facts surrounding the interruption."

After CNET News reported on the outage and asked readers to share their experience, dozens of e-mails poured in.

From a husband unable to connect with his pregnant wife, to small-business owners unable to reach clients, to people getting grief for seemingly ignoring text messages from their significant others, people wrote in with their grievances.

Electrician Casey French, of Flower Mound, Texas, said that the outage is a major issue for his business, given that he can't afford to sit in an office with a landline phone.

"This is a catastrophic blow to businesses like mine, losing a day or more of production means losing not only money, but potential new customers, which in this economy are extremely hard to come by already," French said.

T-Mobile, which confirmed the outage Tuesday afternoon, released an updated statement around 5 p.m. PST, saying that "some T-Mobile customers may be experiencing intermittent service disruptions impacting voice and some data services."

However, plenty of folks e-mailed me to say they were having more than intermittent problems.

Around 6:15 p.m., the company said it was making "good progress restoring voice and messaging service to affected customers." The company added that, "at this time, approximately 5 percent of T-Mobile customers are experiencing service disruptions."

From that point, though, another 50 people e-mailed me to say they were still having problems with their service--many saying that they had multiple phones that weren't working as well as friends who were also having problems of one variety or another.

Some questioned T-Mobile's 5 percent estimate, saying that nearly everyone they knew with T-Mobile was experiencing some sort of outage. (As of the second quarter, T-Mobile had 33.5 million subscribers, meaning that even if 5 percent of users were affected, that would still be more than 1.5 million people.)

John Bystrom, of Elk Grove Village, Ill., said he also doubted the 5 percent figure, given the number of people who packed a local store he stopped in to inquire about the outage. Bystrom said he had just switched from AT&T to T-Mobile to get the BlackBerry 8900, but now hopes to switch back to AT&T.

"Hopefully I can get out without being charged the fee since T-Mobile in my opinion has broken the contract first by not delivering a stable system," Bystrom said.

At 10:30 p.m., T-Mobile e-mailed another statement, to say that things had been resolved.

"T-Mobile confirms it has fully restored voice and text/picture messaging services for customers affected by intermittent service disruptions on Tuesday," the company said. "About five percent of our customers across various geographies were affected for much of Tuesday evening, and by late Tuesday PST their service was restored... We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience that this has caused our customers."

Some took issue with the way T-Mobile handled the outage.

"My frustration with T-Mobile is not that they had an outage, but the way they buried their head in the sand," said Carlos Ovalle, an architect in Long Beach, Calif. "They have just about everyone's email and could have notified us of the issue. Had that been the case I could have immediately notified customers that rely on being able to reach me at a moment's notice."

Clarence Barnes, a TV and radio host in Los Angeles, said he also objected to how T-Mobile managed the issue. "The problem for me was that if you called my phone, it would say 'The number you dialed is no longer in service'," said Barnes who is looking for full-time work after the radio station where he worked switched formats. "If you get that message it generally means that the person no longer has that number or simply didn't pay the bill--either answer doesn't make me look that responsible."

Tuesday's outage is the latest blow for T-Mobile, which is still working through a month-long ordeal for its Sidekick service, in which some customers have lost their address books and many more are still waiting to get back other data, such as calendars, to-do lists, and photos.

Of course, T-Mobile customers are not the only ones with cell phone issues. AT&T customers regularly complain about service problems with their iPhones. An outage last year interrupted service for BlackBerry customers on various networks across North America. Earlier this year a cut fiber line left many AT&T customers in Silicon Valley without service.

On Wednesday, T-Mobile customers by and large had their service back, but many were still looking for answers. Bystrom said that several hours after calling customer care he got a call back offering a $5 credit. "When I protested that it was unacceptable (I) was pretty much told take it or leave it," Bystrom said.