Even the Good Guys Have Bad Days: How Carrier Outages Happen and Why Wireless Backup Is Essential

May 3, 2024


A major cellular network outage in early 2024 highlighted that even the most reliable carrier can suffer from service disruptions – and that outages can have huge repercussions for affected businesses that rely on wireless networks to operate.

But why do outages happen, what are the implications for businesses, and how can working with a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) provide the vital network redundancy that organizations need to keep up and running at all times?

Technology Complexity, Human Error, and Malicious Acts Cause Outages

The complexity of the technology involved in running our cellular networks, combined with human fallibility, means that even large and highly reliable providers will occasionally experience network outages.

System changes or upgrades that don’t go to plan, damage to fiber cables, and cyberattacks are the biggest potential risks. Weather can also play a part in outages.

Why the Business Impact of Outages Can Be Enormous

Depending on the size of the wireless carrier, the impact of these outages can be minimal – but the bigger the carrier, the bigger the effects on the businesses that rely on them.

Many different sectors depend on cellular networks to operate, such as:

  • Manufacturers using connected devices in factories
  • Traffic monitoring in smart cities
  • Digital signage in retail stores
  • Connected healthcare monitors or surgical devices

The fact that many organizations are so heavily reliant on the cloud makes the role of connectivity even more critical because users are remote from the applications, services, and data they need to be productive.

When wireless connectivity goes down, employees can’t do their jobs, connected devices can’t operate properly, supply chains are disrupted, and transactions can’t be processed. All of this has a direct impact on an organization’s productivity, reputation, and revenue.

Revenue Loss Can Run into Hundreds of Millions of Dollars

A major wireless network outage in Houston in early 2023 was caused by a combination of bad weather, power grid problems, and equipment failure. It affected around half a million customers in the region for several days, with some suffering a loss of service for up to a week.

Businesses were significantly impacted by the outage, with professional services organizations unable to access essential data or contact clients, and retailers and restaurants losing the ability to take payments. One estimate put the total lost revenue for businesses in the area at as much as $100 million. Employees also struggled to work from home without wireless access to essential applications, while affected infrastructure such as traffic lights led to increased congestion and long commutes to work.

Forrester estimates that a large cellular service outage in early 2024, which was caused by a technical error during a network expansion, may have impacted the US economy to the tune of a staggering $500 million during the 11- to 12-hour network failure.

These examples highlight the need for businesses to diversify their connectivity to avoid single points of failure and the risk of connectivity blackout – and that’s where MVNOs come in.

MVNOs Introduce Vital Network Redundancy

An MVNO provides branded cellular services but doesn’t own the network these services run over. Instead, MVNOs resell services running on infrastructure belonging to licensed mobile operators.

The MVNO model offers businesses a variety of benefits, including:

  • Allowing different carrier networks to be used at different sites, depending on the network speed and coverage at each location
  • Greater flexibility and cost efficiency as businesses grow and evolve
  • Seamless connectivity for international roaming
  • Avoiding the cost and complexity of setting up and managing contracts with each individual carrier
  • The convenience of a single bill for services from multiple network providers

In the case of an outage, however, one of the greatest benefits of working with an MVNO is the ability to seamlessly switch to another wireless carrier if one network fails.

This provides essential redundancy, helping to protect businesses against the effects of wireless network disruption. For organizations that are still using a single carrier to connect users, data, services, and devices, it’s time to think about a new approach to wireless connectivity.