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Verizon’s LTE Outage and the Public’s Right to Know

Mon, 05/16/2011 - 1:30pm
Maisie Ramsay

On April 27, Verizon Wireless’ brand new LTE network experienced a massive nationwide outage that lasted for more than 24 hours. The company issued few details about the crash beyond a small number of clipped statements, and Verizon’s primary network vendors, Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson, declined to comment entirely.

More than two weeks later, the industry is still completely in the dark about what caused the outage. Verizon and its network vendors have yet to explain the source of the crash to its customers, and again recently declined to comment on the matter.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by this media blackout – Verizon might have good reasons for saying quiet, like protecting its vendors’ reputations or preventing its competitors from learning from its mistakes – but this is a company that prides itself on the dependability of its network.

Verizon brands its CDMA service as the nation’s “largest and most reliable 3G network” and is calling its LTE offering the “fastest and most advanced 4G network.” With marketing like that, you’d think some sort of explanation would be in order when Verizon’s prodigal product offering blinks off without warning for more than a day.

There are probably some valid reasons for keeping the origin of the crash under wraps, but I’d like to get some sort of explanation. After all, why should customers trust the reliability of Verizon’s service after such a major outage, especially when they’ve been given no details about what caused the crash in the first place? Was it a malicious attack? A software glitch in the core of the network? Are there issues reconciling Verizon’s CDMA/EV-DO network with its GSM-based LTE technology? Is Verizon’s LTE service more fragile than we thought? Could it happen again?

No one knows. Verizon’s refusal to provide any explanation has effectively kept a lid on the entire incident.

Wireless operators and their vendors are not infallible. Network outages happen, certainly, but usually on a regional basis. A nationwide outage that lasts more than a day is on another scale entirely. Verizon may not feel obligated to honor the public’s right to know, but its continued silence will do little to restore the reputation of its network and repair customer relationships damaged by the outage.

Today, Verizon announced it was expanding its LTE network to Fayetteville-Lumberton, N.C., and areas around Chicago and Philadelphia. The launches, slated for May 19, mark the first LTE deployments since last month’s crash.

Thanks to its silence, Verizon has successfully swept the issue under the rug. For their sake, let’s hope it stays there as it restarts its deployment plans. If Verizon has another outage of the sort that happened last month, it’s going to have a hard time associating its LTE network with the hallmark reliability of its CDMA network.

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