SINGAPORE - Telco M1 has been fined a record $1.5 million for a service outage in January this year that lasted up to 71 hours, the worst mobile network failure Singapore has experienced to date.
The highest fine before this was $400,000 imposed on SingTel. The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) penalised the telco after its services went down for 22 hours in September 2011.
In a statement on Thursday, IDA said it found M1 "had not fulfilled its obligation to provide resilient mobile telephone services".
The regulator said that some 250,000 M1 users were affected by the failure, which disrupted 3G and 2G services.
M1's 3G disruption lasted about 63 hours, and affected customers in the south-western parts of Singapore, such as West Coast, Jurong and Tuas.
Customers in the north- western parts, such as Yishun, Woodlands and Kranji, could not get 2G services for about 71 hours.
The regulator's investigations showed that M1 had failed to ensure "good electrical installation practices" in the incident.
The mobile disruption began on Jan 15 when one of M1's vendors was upgrading transmission equipment at its network headquarters in the International Business Park.
This caused a power termination problem, emitting sparks that set off the gas suppression and water sprinkler systems. One of the telco's mobile network switches - a critical piece of equipment - then tripped because of the water, causing the outage.
M1 had to reconnect hundreds of base stations, which receive and transmit mobile phone signals, to another switch in order to restore its service.
Before the incident, it had four core network switches delivering 3G and 2G services to two million subscribers. Each switch handled a designated area on the island for data surfing and voice calls. When one switch failed, the remaining three switches took over the entire network's load.
IDA's investigations showed that M1 did not carry out "adequate risk assessment" and exercise "due care and diligence" to minimise the risks posed to its equipment and operations.
Specifically, M1 was not rigorous enough in supervising the upgrading work despite it being in a core network room.
Mr Leong Keng Thai, IDA's deputy chief executive and director- general of telecoms and post, said the regulator was "extremely concerned" with the length and scope of M1's outage, "especially when it affected services which are heavily relied upon by both consumers and businesses".
"Telecommunication service providers must continuously improve the resiliency of their networks, in order to ensure the reliability of telecoms services in Singapore," he added.
When deciding on the fine, IDA considered the extent of the outage and the time taken to restore services.
A mitigating factor was M1's continued network upgrade, such as its $85 million investment on its 3G network announced in April to boost indoor and outdoor coverage and minimise the duration of any service outages should a part of its network go down.
M1's statement yesterday said it had sought to reduce the fine as the incident was "unexpected and beyond reasonable control", but IDA did not agree. M1 said it was considering options, including appealing against the fine.
The telco added that this year alone, it has committed over $116 million into network upgrades.
A previous major service disruption for the operator occurred in May 2011, lasting 14 hours and earning it a $300,000 fine from IDA.
Media lawyer Bryan Tan, a partner in Pinsent Masons MPillay, was not surprised by the amount of the fine. "The more severe an outage, the higher the fine."
One affected M1 customer Victor Chew, 42, said a fine serves as a good deterrent. But he would rather IDA force M1 to plough part of the $1.5 million back into its network and the rest as compensation to affected customers.
IDA also said on Thursday that it will be introducing a new audit framework to regularly review the resiliency of all three telcos' mobile networks, which it said meet international standards currently. Details are being worked out.
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