What happens if a mobile network cracks under the strain of a ‘data tsunami’? This was one of the most hotly debated topics at the recent ‘Monetizing Bandwidth’ roundtable held at TM Forum’s MW Americas last month. Although most attendees thought it was some way off, for one operator it has happened way sooner than expected, and the PR damage resulting from it has reached the equivalent of ‘8’ on the Richter scale.

I don’t wish to exacerbate the problems already facing this particular Australian operator, nor do I wish to be targeted for constantly highlighting issues in that fine country, but the facts are that telecommunications is paramount in the minds of the whole population. The press, the industry watchdog, consumer associations and the regulator have made it one of the most transparent sectors in the country, if not the world.

In the run up to the busiest sales and usage period in the country, Vodafone’s network in Australia is buckling under the load, compounded by technical issues that have prevented it from increasing capacity. Vodafone’s CTO reported that the first issue, relating to data performance, was caused by “unstable” software that prevented Vodafone from increasing capacity on the network.

The second, being experienced in CBD areas mainly, was also caused by software “that was creating extra signaling traffic”. Local analysts were quick to chip in that both issues related to more users on the network and devices that were demanding more and more bandwidth. This is exactly what was brought up at the roundtable in support of operators being allowed to manage or shape traffic on their networks and the dangers of unrestricted use of applications and software across the network that has not been tested or approved by the CSP.

Although the CTO did not differentiate whether it was system software or software in applications using the network, the implications about extra signaling traffic are reminiscent of issues experienced by AT&T in the USA this time last year and attributed to heavy iPhone usage.

Nevertheless, the attacks on Vodafone have been almost vitriolic in nature. The focus being on its failure to inform customers of the problems and then failing to cope with the massive number of calls to its customer care lines. All this in the busiest phone sales holiday season will surely be very damaging to the operator.

For other mobile CSPs this should be sounding very loud warning bells. For those wanting to implement tools to prevent it happening, but concerned about implications around ‘net neutrality’ argument issues, the upcoming ‘Monetizing Bandwidth’ Quick Insights out in January will be essential reading.