O2 Phone Boss 'Embarrassed' By Blackout
The boss of mobile phone firm O2 has told Sky News he is "embarrassed" by a network fault that affected a third of its customers.
The company, which has 23 million UK subscribers, had been struggling to restore coverage since Wednesday afternoon.
O2's UK chief executive, Ronan Dunne, admitted that more than seven million people may have been affected by the outage, which left them unable to make calls, send text messages or email.
He told Sky News: "The first thing I would like to do is apologise to our customers."
"A piece of our network hardware which manages the registration of handsets stopped working at about 1pm yesterday and as a result progressively over the course of the afternoon more and more customers lost connection with the network."
Asked if he was embarrassed by the system blackout, he told Kay Burley: "Yes I am. I am a customer myself."
The company restored service for 2G users, enabling calls, text and slow web surfing on Thursday morning, the more advanced 3G network was back up by early afternoon.
In a statement posted on its website, O2 said: "If any customers are still having problems we recommend they turn their phone off and on again.
"Once again, we are sorry."
The fault left many customers feeling cut off and frustrated, but perhaps none more so than Karen Brett, who at 39 weeks pregnant had just gone into labour.
She said: I've just felt really uncomfortable and really panicky about it, because if I can't get to hospital and I'm in full labour, I'll be stuck at home and I'll probably have to give birth at home."
Others emailed in to describe the difficulties they were facing.
Tom Bubb wrote: "I have had no signal since Wednesday at 1pm, my nan was rushed into hospital and was given 24 hours to live and half of my family wasn't aware of this because of the network situation, my own mum didn't know my nan was about to pass away!"
Helen Leen emailed: "I rely heavily on my mobile as I have a child with a very severe brain disorder and need to be contactable at all times."
"I am now going to have to buy a sim from another provider and have to let all his support system know... really upset and worried as at present I have no contact."
Part of the problem was a perceived lack of information from O2, with customers being told overnight that the company was "unable to confirm any timescales" for service to be restored.
Many of those who could get online took to social networking sites to vent their frustration:
:: @Jade_Rose04: "What did one O2 customer say to the other? Nothing"
:: @mandakal: Thanks o2 for leaving me stranded in a freezing station #nosignal to call my lift. Gonna take alot of priority freebies to make up for this!
:: @goddess grumpy: Woohoo O2 is back at last. Don't know how long for. Looking for a new network unless we get compensation or an apology which is doubtful.
:: @finding_scotty: No O2 you have not fixed the problem and my phone does not work. Am buying a few cups and lots of string for today...
:: Austin Harris: Train line flooded last night and O2 was broken (and still is). Like life in the dark ages, had to use a phone box.
Luke Foord-Kelcey, a risk specialist at JLT Group, said O2's response would be critical to their brand reputation.
He explained: "Reputation takes a lifetime to build and, in the days of Twitter and Facebook and social networking, only a few minutes to flatten.
"If I look at the recent troubles that have happened at the Royal Bank of Scotland, or at O2 in the last couple of days - is anyone really going to change their bank account or their mobile service provider?
"I couldn't tell you, but what I would predict is that I doubt any of their competitors will be running an advertising campaign off the back of this, because they know that this could well happen to them too."
O2 is the UK's second largest mobile network and also provides coverage for Tesco Mobile and GiffGaff.
The company said there is no link between this service disruption and another in June, when thousands of customers were unable to send texts for a day.
In 2010, O2 had to apologise for revealing customers' numbers to websites they had visited on their smartphones.
Paddy Smith, from Stuff magazine, told Sky: "Any major event like this will do some damage to the network and their customers will feel it very, very keenly.
"I have no doubt that they will look elsewhere but let's not forget that a lot of people are locked into long contracts that they cannot get out of without paying a lot of money."