Majority of Pakistan went offline when PTCL’s internet stopped working earlier in the afternoon yesterday.
Initially everyone thought that it was usual hiccup that PTCL faces all the times but then soon realized that they weren’t the only ones who were cut from the internet. Since Ufone’s 3G stopped working as well at the same time, users were quick to guess that something went terribly wrong all across the country.
ProPakistani started getting reports around 4PM about the outage. Initially, like everyone else, we thought that it was the usual cut cables to blame with services probably impacted in limited areas, but soon it was clear that outage stretched across a wider area, i.e. throughout the country.
Not only the consumers but ISPs that rely on PTCL’s backhaul also went offline. Ufone, a major PTCL customer and a sister concern, was severely impacted as well as its 3G and SMS services went off-air across the country.
PTCL responded to media queries and termed the reason behind its service outages as resulting due to multiple cable cuts. Media was quick to buy the theory and ran the news as per official PTCL sources.
It’s for sure not a media cut or fault: CEO of an ISP
However upon investigation, certain details came to light that threw the official version of events into doubt.
If it was the cable cut(s), then why were PTCL’s landline phones working, or PTCL Smart TV for that matter? Add to that Ufone’s voice service (2G) as well, which was working normally.
Moreover, since PTCL’s backhaul is usually highly available and redundant all across, a cut in cable or even multiple cuts shouldn’t impact the entire country.
Industry experts, when we asked them, were not convinced with the cable cut theory. A CEO of an ISP, who wanted to remain unnamed, ruled out the possibility of a media cut. “It’s for sure not a media cut or fault”, he said.
Another top guy in who deals with networks from Karachi was hesitant to accept that cable cut could be the root cause of the PTCL outage. He said that these were not usual cable cuts, if they were cable cuts in the first place. “These cuts were very special for sure; at the most unfortunate places that triggered a country wide outage”
If it were indeed multiple cable cuts, then it’s a badly designed network: Pervez Iftikhar
He further explained that dual cuts often spill over into configuration issues at both transport and network layer.
We asked if today’s outage could be due to software misconfiguration, Pervez Iftikhar, former CEO of USF Pakistan, said that he can’t rule out the chances.
Mr. Parvez also stressed that cable cuts have to be at very “strategic” locations that they aggravated the problem in the network to this extent. “If it were indeed multiple cable cuts, then it’s a badly designed network”, he added.
Parvez Iftikhar also said that there is apparently no inter-operator cable swap in place or else this type of outage would never have occurred.
Not to mention, this country wide internet down-time from PTCL was first of its kind instance. There hasn’t been a similar past incident.
It is yet to be seen if this was a deliberate act or not!
Mr. Imran Janjua, General Manager PR at PTCL, in response to our queries, said that PTCL’s network is designed for business continuity and high availability.
“However, due to abnormal cuts in our cables in different remote parts of the country, internet services were impacted which have been fully restored.”
Mr. Janjua further said that a high level investigation committee has been constituted to determine the root cause of the outage.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority is apparently also keeping an eye on the development. A PTA spokesperson, while speaking with ProPakistani, said that investigations are being conducted to ascertain the reasons behind the outage.
While its too early to say anything, it is safe to assume that investigation committee that PTCL has setup will definitely look into possibilities to evaluate if it was a deliberate act or not.
Also, the committee must see that why network wasn’t redundant enough to cope with multiple cable cuts. And also why inter-operator swap wasn’t in place as a fail safe in an event like yesterday’s.
We are assuming that this was a one-off thing, and actionable information with full scale lessons will be learnt from the incident.
Pakistan, in any circumstances, is in no condition to bear country-wide outage for millions of customers, corporations, businesses, banks, exchanges, schools, universities and house-holds again.