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Early this morning, there was an AT&T phone outage. Reports indicate it was around 12:00 AM Pacific Time and was nationwide in scope. There were reports from Houston, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, San Antonio, Indianapolis, Miami, and Los Angeles.

At this time, the exact cause has not been announced, though there is no shortage of speculation.

  • Solar Flare: Coincidentally there was a solar flare and many people have posted this as the cause. A solar flare would be more likely to affect the daylight side of the planet.
  • Cyber Attack: Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory, but we are not aware of any evidence pointing to an attack as the cause.
  • Software update: This is a possible cause. A number of years ago Verizon had an incident caused by an update that disrupted phones in the Los Angeles area for a good portion of a day. The disruption caused overload to other services as people sought out alternate communications means. That incident was particularly of concern to medical facilities that may have a need to call out in an emergency.
  • Overload: This would be possible, but perhaps not likely considering the time of day that it happened. Most people would have been sleeping rather than on their phones. Overloads certainly do happen when there is a major event in an area or an emergency. The cell system is designed to handle expected loads, plus some additional margin. If there is a sudden increase the system can simply run out of resources.

The actual cause will remain uncertain until officially declared. This incident underscores the significance of alternative communication methods. System failures can occur due to natural disasters or human errors. Cell phones, entirely reliant on network connectivity, turn useless in its absence. The absence of a major failure over an extended period may lead to complacency, but the truth remains: failure is always a possibility.

Like everyone else, we have cell phones, but we also utilize an array of radios, switching between them based on necessity. Working in isolated locations where safety is crucial, we often encounter areas lacking cell phone coverage during our extensive drives. Nonetheless, even in the event of cellular network failure, we remain connected via our radios.

UPDATE: This statement has been release. “Based on our initial review, we believe that today’s outage was caused by the application and execution of an incorrect process used as we were expanding our network,” the wireless carrier said in a statement on its website.”. This would appear to be similar to the Verizon outage I described above. An error in a software update caused the disruption.

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