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29 May 2018

At about 11:20am yesterday morning, those living in the South Waikato and who rely on Vodafone for their mobile and internet services became disconnected from the rest of the world.

First I knew of it was when the old-sheila came to me griping that her phone wasn't working.

I checked my own phone and it said there was no service.

To be honest, since my phone is a $9 el-cheapo 2G device, I wasn't surprised to see no signal on it. The 2G service is about as reliable as a politician's promises these days. However, the old-girl has last-year's model of the Samsung Galaxy so when the 3G/4G service goes down then you know something more serious is afoot.

So I checked the Vodafone website and it said that there was an outage in "Waikato" affecting mobile and internet connectivity.

My UFB internet connection (via Spark) was still working just fine, as was the landline -- so I wasn't much worried.

Come 4:30pm (some 5 hours later) and the Vodafone service was still down -- with the website reporting that the problem now only affected regions of the South Waikato.

My wife had been busy all day, trying to organise something to do with the Lions club that she's involved in -- but without the ability to send or receive SMS messages, and with most of the people she had to contact relying on Vodafone mobiles for their communications, her attempts were thwarted at almost every turn.

Eventually the landline started ringing every 5 minutes with calls from people wanting to know what was going on.

A nice young reporter from the local paper rang (on the landline) asking if my wife was around -- because she'd been trying all day to get through on her mobile number without success. I told the reporter that Vodafone was down (she didn't know) and she replied "ah, that would explain a lot". Clearly she'd been having trouble contacting a lot of other people as well.

Now you might think "so the mobile and Net goes out for a day... who cares?"

Well the reality is that a few years ago, not many people would have cared. Every household still had a landline and the Net was an accessory, not a necessity.

As we approach the third decade of the 21st century however, an protracted outage involving the mobile and Net services provided by a major telco is actually a real big thing.

A large and ever-growing percentage of Kiwis no longer have a landline which means that mobiles are their only voice-communications tool. With many mobile plans offering more free minutes of talk-time than you can use in a month and with an increased emphasis on the written rather than spoken word, landlines are no longer a necessity at all.

What's more, with the proliferation of UFB, a growing number of people are using the installation of fibre as the milestone where they say goodbye to any kind of landline-based phone service.

So, whereas an outage in the mobile service may have been an irritation in the past, it is now a real issue for many people - made even worse by the fact that many telcos do "bundles" involving broadband and mobile services. Chances are that if you're using Vodafone as your ISP, you're also using them as your mobile provider so when big-red's systems failed yesterday, a lot of people were left totally without any form of electronic connection to the rest of the world.

Now that's more than an inconvenience if you are in the middle of having a heart attack or a stroke while the systems are down. Mashing 1-1-1 on the keypad of your phone will be a futile (and possibly final) gesture in such circumstances.

So does it make sense to have a backup in place?

I have to admit that I still have a landline connection -- and yesterday that became a very valuable decision to have made. The household's mobile connectivity was out but we still had a phone that worked and internet that worked -- so I could continue working and the old-sheila could continue to try and organise her events.

I'm wondering what Aardvark readers are doing for redundancy in the area of electronic communications in their household or business?

Are all your services being provided by the same telco and thus subject to simultaneous failure as was the case with Vodafone in the Waikato yesterday?

Or have you deliberately spread your risk over multiple providers?

Perhaps you even keep carrier pigeons in the loft... just in case?

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