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China Telecom network crash takes down millionsChina Telecom network crash takes down millions

A day after the event, China Telecom is still unable to explain why its network went down for five hours in China's wealthiest province.

Robert Clark

June 9, 2023

3 Min Read
China Telecom network crash takes down millions
A day after the event, China Telecom is still unable to explain why its network went down for five hours.(Source: Newscom/Alamy Stock Photo)

China Telecom's network in Guangdong province went down for five hours Thursday, taking tens of millions of mobile customers off air in one of China's biggest ever outages. Yet 24 hours later it is still impossible to confirm the scale of the crash or the precise locations and services affected, not to mention the cause of the fault.

The outage began at around 2:15 PM but it took the company another two hours before it made any public comment. Its customer service account on Sina Weibo apologized for "network abnormalities" and said the problem was being fixed. Just before 7:30 PM it reported that service had been restored.

The outage seems to have hit just about all of Guangdong, China's wealthiest and most populous province. With a population of 120 million, it is likely that around 30 million of China Telecom's 400 million mobile customers were affected.

Most reports say the service just affected local and roaming voice calls, including 4G and 5G VoLTE calls, although some accounts say the entire network was impacted.

Abnormal congestion

An unverified post published on the IT Home website quoted China Telecom executive vice president Xia Bing referring to "abnormal" congestion in Cisco equipment as well as "message congestion" in Huawei and ZTE equipment.

IT Home also quoted online experts saying the connection rate between the Guangdong fixed and mobile network IBCF (Interconnect Border Control Function) had dropped significantly.

In any case, the exact cause remains unknown – including to the head of the local communications bureau, Cai Lizhi, who called a meeting of all local telecom execs last night to remind them of the importance of "stable and reliable network services."

It's not clear why China Telecom was so unhelpful to its customers and the wider community. Quite possibly it was bureaucratic habit to impart the bare minimum of detail, especially as blame is yet to be allocated.

But in today's security-obsessed China it is also possible the outage has been declared a matter of national security, shutting down all discussion until a carefully-crafted explanation is released.

So, China Telecom customers will have to wait a bit longer to find out why they couldn't make a phone call for five hours and also perhaps why Guangdong Telecom was so terrible at keeping them informed.

It will be interesting to see if the company shoulders the blame or whether responsibility falls on one or more individual officials. Customers may also wonder if they are worthy of compensation.

Japan's KDDI is a point of comparison. Its network went down for nearly three days last July, taking 30 million customers off air. The company has since paid 7.3 billion Japanese yen (US$52 million) in compensation to customers and committed to $339 million in accelerated network upgrades.

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China Telecom's crash was not anywhere near as serious, but it caused inconvenience and possibly worse for many users. Who will take the blame?

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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Robert Clark

Robert Clark is an independent technology editor and researcher based in Hong Kong. In addition to contributing to Light Reading, he also has his own blog,  Electric Speech (http://www.electricspeech.com). 

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