Orange investigates itself over network outage

Still unclear whether there is a direct link between deaths that occurred during an outage which prevented calls to the emergency services.

Anne Morris, Contributing Editor, Light Reading

June 4, 2021

3 Min Read
Orange investigates itself over network outage

Orange remains under fire following a major network outage on Wednesday that prevented calls to the emergency services in France.

France uses separate numbers for the ambulance, police and fire brigade (15, 17, 18) as well as the 112 emergency services number that is available throughout the European Union. When the network went down, the French government was forced to provide alternative numbers at local level.

Although Orange CEO Stephane Richard went on Twitter to apologise to those affected, and also appeared on television news to assure the public that the situation was under control, the operator is clearly bracing itself for some pretty major fallout from the affair.

Figure 1: The right words: Orange CEO Stephane Richard apologized for the outage on Twitter. (Source: Orange) The right words: Orange CEO Stéphane Richard apologized for the outage on Twitter.
(Source: Orange)

It also said its teams will "remain mobilized in the days to come, and we are maintaining a maximum level of vigilance to ensure the stability of the system. We are also working with the authorities to ensure that any residual local issues are resolved."

The biggest question is whether the inability to call the usual emergency numbers caused people to die. According to Reuters, Health Minister Olivier Véran said it was too soon to say whether there was any link between the outage and three to four deaths recorded during the period.

French Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin, previously said that the network failure was "serious and unacceptable," adding that one person in the Brittany region may have died because emergency services could not be called quickly enough.

Orange lance une enquête

Richard has now launched an investigation into what went wrong, Orange confirmed.

In a statement, the operator said its CEO "has initiated an in-depth internal investigation which will file its report in seven days. This aims to shed light on the precise causes of this incident and make recommendations in order to draw all the necessary lessons for the future."

As things stand, Orange seems to have little idea as to what caused the major network breakdown. Richard reportedly said the outage was not caused by an attack nor by a malicious act. He also ruled out human error or maintenance issues.

Orange described it as an "extremely rare technical incident which impacted some of the emergency service numbers. At the height of the crisis, 10% to 20% of emergency calls were not getting through during several hours on Wednesday evening."

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French media is following the situation closely, with Le Figaro describing Wednesday evening from 16.45 onwards as a nightmare for Orange. The paper reported that the operator’s six servers ceased to function at the same time.

Le Monde said the pressure on Richard is "immense" particularly from the French state, which is Orange’s largest shareholder with a 23% stake.

"We are fully conscious of the seriousness of this incident and apologize to all those affected as well as to our partners working in the emergency services," stated a red-faced Orange.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Anne Morris

Contributing Editor, Light Reading

Anne Morris is a freelance journalist, editor and translator. She has been working in the telecommunications sector since 1996, when she joined the London-based team of Communications Week International as copy editor. Over the years she held the editor position at Total Telecom Online and Total Tele-com Magazine, eventually leaving to go freelance in 2010. Now living in France, she writes for a number of titles and also provides research work for analyst companies.

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