Well thanks for that O2, my iPhone was as much use as a chocolate teapot from lunchtime yesterday thanks to the pay monthly data network suffering a monumental failure. There I was, sitting in a (without wifi) Costa Coffee about to start an informal meeting with a potential client. I needed to check my email to confirm something with him, but wait, what was that my iPhone was telling me: unable to connect to the O2 data network? Surely some mistake. But no, a very embarrassing 30 minutes passed during which time I was unable to access the all important email, or anything online for that matter. Eventually the potential client and I decamped to the nearest pub which had wifi. Luckily it was operated by The Cloud, which means as an O2 iPhone pay monthly customer I get free access. Even more luckily, it was actually working.
I got the email, the meeting went well, and set about trying to find out just what the hell was going at O2. A quick call to customer services turned out to be nothing of the sort, I guess everyone with an iPhone was doing the same thing. A check on the web didn't turn anything up at this point either, but logging on to Twitter I discovered a tweet from the official O2 feed which simply stated that the company was "having a problem with Pay Monthly internet access, this will affect MMS too. Sorry - we're working to fix this ASAP." There were rather more tweets from angry O2 customers all of whom were unable to get any data connectivity via the O2 network.
It turns out that customers using the O2 pre-pay service, which has a different access point, were not impacted by the data service crash nor were BlackBerry users apparently. However, O2 mobile broadband users joined the unhappy iPhone crowd in being cut off from the Internet.
By late last night O2 were reporting that the "vast majority" of services were back to normal for most customers. The total number of customers impacted by the data downtime is likely to be between 1.5 and 2 million, after discounting the BlackBerry and pre-pay users. After all, O2 sold a million iPhone 3GS units in just 3 days although BlackBerry sales are continuing to impress.
Of course, the number of customers using the O2 data network, and adding additional strain is going to increase as O2 starts selling the Palm Pre, for which it also has an exclusive network contract. Oh deep joy, the iPhone, the Palm Pre and the mobile broadband dongle users are all competing for a slice of the mobile data network action, and something is going to give. Just like it did yesterday. Could the problem be that O2 is not investing enough in upgrading the back haul network which was never actually built to shift the kind of data that 3G bandwidth supposedly provides and which customers unsurprisingly expect to be able to use? When will this mobile rip-off end and the networks actually put their hands up and admit they are miss-selling mobile broadband be that by way of dongle or iPhone?
At least the data disaster that hit O2 iPhone users yesterday here in the UK answers one question: the network just isn't up to handling the kind of data being thrown at it in this increasingly broadband mobile world, is it? Digital Britain certainly isn't looking too speedy when you leave the home or office, that's for sure.