Vodafone responds to network collapse after burglary

Vodafone is back up and running -- but how did a break-in affect several thousand customers? We ask the network what happened.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Vodafone is back up and running after a break-in brought parts of the network to its knees yesterday. Voda admits several thousand customers were affected, so we asked the company how the world's largest mobile telecommunications outfit could be so severely affected by a couple of burglars -- and asked you for your reactions in comments on Facebook and on Twitter.

Vodafone confirmed that "specialist network equipment and IT hardware" was stolen from a technical facility in Basingstoke between 1am and 2am on Monday. Hampshire police are investigating.

Vodafone insists "several hundred thousand customers may have been affected" but rumoured numbers in the millions are "grossly exaggerated". The network also claims that "loss of service is mainly confined to parts of the M4 corridor [around Bristol, Bath, Basingstoke, Reading, Slough and Swindon] and some areas either side".

We heard from disgruntled readers that the failure had further-reaching effects, however: Anne Jones had no network in Devon until around 1pm. Kevin Craner had the same problem in Torquay. Worst of all, Garry_W had no 3G signal for his iPhone all the way up in Hull.

Readers Donna Walker and David Forster lamented the lack of a backup plan, while Craig Barraclough reckons the snafu vindicates the transfer of his company's phones to Orange.

We had a chat to a beleaguered Vodafone spokesman, who told us the unexpected nature of the break-in caused the problem, as opposed to a normal network outage: "We have robust plans for dealing with network issues and traffic management, but this incident involved the physical theft of equipment, which is a very rare occurrence."

Rare, but hardly beyond the realms of human experience -- the lack of backup or redundancy suggests Vodafone needs to show a little more imagination in its disaster planning. After all, a break-in is hardly an alien invasion.

Some customers are trying to look on the bright side. Long-time customers Abhishek Chopra and Nathaniel Hobbs point out they've never had these problems before. And Steven Campbell says with a big smile that he's in "Ripon, North Yorkshire and I've got full signal and fast data on Vodafone. Love it." Smug get.

Are you back on the network? How long were you without a signal? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook wall. If you're still having problems, Vodafone has some advice for checking your phone and SIM card and reporting problems.

Vodafone's spokesperson says the network isn't compensating users because of the unexpected nature of the break-in, but we've heard mixed reports of customers being offered money off their next bill.

What the heck -- give it a shot and let us know how you get on: Vodafone's customer service number is 08700 700191 if you're on a contract, 08700 776655 if you're on pay as you go, or 191 from your Vodafone phone.