Rogers says disruptive wireless outage caused by Ericsson software update

Rogers Communications Inc. says services for the majority of its customers have been restored after a massive outage caused by a software update from Ericsson.

The company says in a tweet late Monday that a small number of services with other carriers continued to come back online.

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Chief technology officer Jorge Fernandes had said in a message on the company's website earlier in the day that the company's TV, home and business wireline internet, and home phone services were not affected.

Rogers — which is one of Canada's big three wireless carriers along with Bell and Telus — owns a national wireless network that does business under the Rogers, Fido and Chatr brands.

Experts say the intermittent wireless service issues left Rogers customers without phone or texting services beginning early Monday, with broad economic ramifications across Canada.

In addition to personal communications, experts say the outage impacted business sales and services such as food delivery and curbside pickup, payments that require a wireless connection and the ability for people to work remotely.

"It's a very big deal," said Tyler Chamberlin, assistant professor at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa. "It can have very big consequences on our economy."

The service interruption could also affect health, with some Rogers customers saying they had been unable to book or check in for medical appointments.

According to Downdetector, a website that tracks outages, problems were reported in most major Canadian cities.

Although the service disruption appeared concentrated in southern Ontario, an outage map suggested the service problems spanned the country from British Columbia to Nova Scotia.

The massive outage could flame concerns about telecommunications consolidation and costs in Canada, Chamberlinsaid.

"It's infrastructure, it's equipment and it's going to fail here and there," he said. "But the fact that we're paying more than most of the consumers around the world would suggest that our tolerance for outages like this is probably quite limited."

An investor page on the Rogers website indicates the telecommunications company provides both postpaid and prepaid wireless services to about 10.9 million consumer and business subscribers in the Canadian wireless market.

Some of those users expressed frustration on social media, noting that they rely on the wireless service as they work from home under ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

"We’re in another major lockdown here in Ontario and economically that's far less disruptive … than stopping people from being digitally connected," Chamberlinsaid.

Toronto resident and communications specialist Rachael Collier, a Fido customer, said she first noticed her phone wasn't working Monday morning when she tried to make a doctor's appointment.

"I thought my call wasn't going through because so many people are trying to get vaccines today," she said during a Google Meet interview.

"Then I realized I couldn't make any calls," Collier said. "They're saying it's intermittent, but my phone hasn't worked all day. It's clearly an absolutely massive outage."

With her home internet still working, Collier said she was able to work as usual. But she worried about how the wireless outage impacted people trying to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

"I'm concerned that on the first day of vaccination appointments basically opening, people who are relying on their phones to make an appointment have been cut off," she said.

Milton resident Deep Mehta said he hadn't had service for more than 12 hours.

"It's frustrating because I'm trying to operate a business from home and that's the number that everyone has," he said. "I just had to take my son to the orthodontist and I couldn't check in on my phone."

Several emergency services organizations explained that while wireless customers could still place 911 calls during a service interruption, they were unable to receive a call back.

"People should still continue calling 911 for emergencies and remain on the line until an operator speaks to them," Cpl. Caroline Duval, an RCMP spokeswoman, said in an email.

"They should also watch for updates/direction from their local police (including local RCMP where we are the police of jurisdiction) as well as Rogers for updates regarding affected areas."

Rogers said on Twitter that is had been working around the clock with Ericsson to fix the problem.

"We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this outage has caused and thank you for your patience."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:RCI.B)

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