For the masses of Mobilink customers, this Sunday was a nostalgic experience of the days before cellular communication as the company recreated a sense of tranquility by going offline.
While protests did not break out and chaos did not take control, it did send a sudden realization of how important this little gizmo has become to us.
The immediate reaction of many as they saw the bars disappear from their handsets was ‘Mera signal nahi aa raha’ (‘I am not getting any signals’), and the glance at friends and families to check if they were the only desolate soul to suffer this unimaginable wrath or were there other victims to seek solace from.
The Telenor talkers boycotted their ‘Khamoshi’ and the Ufone Uth laughed out loud, while the Warid stronghold simply shook their heads in silent disapproval. The Zong crowd was too busy with their own stuff to worry about anyone else. But the fingers arose pointed at the Mobilink mob, blaming them for being part of an evil cult that simply never worked. A little exaggerated!
What Actually had Happened?
A norm among the millions of cell users when something goes wrong is to call their helpline. However, that is hard to do when there is no line to call for help. So, the resourceful ones took to the web to figure out why they had been placed into this dreaded ‘no link’ zone. And then the sharing of tweets and statuses began, with the venting of anger and frustration.
It took a few hours for the realization that something serious had occurred. The slow trickle of news from various sources spoke of a fire at some center in Islamabad that belonged to a telecommunication company. And it is not that hard to put 2 and 2 together.
The more connected individuals tracked down the carnage to a fire that had broken out at Mobilink’s Mobile Switching Centre (MSC) in Islamabad.
We have here the official version of what had exactly happened!
For those who don’t know, MSCs are exchanges that make the connection between mobile users in a network, and the result from any damage to its infrastructure or system would have effects for the entire base it supported.
Who was impacted?
The preliminary estimates showed that the North region went down as the fire engulfed the MSC, which means Peshawar to Islamabad and the surrounding areas. Along with the cellular service, DSL services by Link DOT Net also got affected as the company is reliant on the Mobilink backbone for its products.
However, as the MSC was a vital component for cross-country connectivity, the loss of service extended to other regions, with subscribers as far as Karachi suffering.
Bad few Months for Mobilink!
Unforeseen events are an unfortunate by-product of the corporate environment, especially in the technology sector. In areas that are furnished with wires, electric gadgets, batteries and loads of other inflammable goods, the smallest of issues can end up causing significant headaches for the entire company as well as its consumers.
For Mobilink, the past few months have seen these events become a bit too regular. The fire at Beverly Centre in Islamabad was followed by a fire at a technical facility in Karachi, and then the event on this Sunday.
While one cannot place blame as such events could and have happened to other companies in the same sector, the conspiracy theorists see a deeper connection. For one, Sundays seem the black day of the week for the Pakistani cellular giant, especially their technical division. The irony here is that ‘I love Sundays’ is one of the shout-outs for the product portfolio of the company.
At the international level, cellular companies have long established contingency plans that map out the path for it to ensure continued service to its consumers. These plans involve various scenarios which could play destructive roles for the company’s network. In certain cases, such plans are drawn up as a result of an event for which the company wasn’t prepared, to ensure better response for the future.
However, such a strategy is devoid in the case here. If you get burnt once, human nature is to ensure greater care when approaching similar scenarios again. For corporate entities, common sense seems to be much lower down the order. It beggars one to understand what level of skill and thought is undertaken when core facilities are planned and manned.
Over time, analysts have stated that the current network of Pakistan’s leading cellular company has aged beyond its serving base. In some ways, this could relate to the earlier deployment compared to the competitors. But incremental innovation is the key to remain strong, irrespective of industry. It is through such innovation that an entity can ensure it solutions remain a viable aspect for competition in the market.
Related conspiracies have raised allegations of arson on the company, stating that insurance money is used to pay for replacements with upgraded technology. However, such allegations are unsubstantiated. They also are not the complete picture of the corporate lifecycle, as it would be hard for a company to repair its image and consumer confidence with such ease.
The estimated loss from this recent event is said to run in the many millions of rupees. Add to that the lost revenue, and it is hard to imagine the above conspiracy to hold any grounding.
But what is harder to understand is the fragility of the network and how one link in the chain could end up causing headaches all around. Furthermore, why would a veteran of the cellular service in Pakistan not be better prepared for such calamities, especially in the wake of the incidents prior to this one?
One event should not stop the mobile provider from stopping to be reflected as ‘Apna Hai’. But this Sunday, usage on Mobile was ‘Sapna hai’.
While we pray for the early recovery of ‘Apna’ network, we reiterate the need to plan the implementation of technology at the same pace with which we continue to add the millions of users, and accumulate the many millions of profit.