O2 Problem Hit Boris Bikes And Criminals’ Electronic Tags


O2’s mobile network went down, and prisoners were temporarily off the net

The high reliance we place on mobile phones today was driven home after O2’s very public network meltdown this week reportedly disrupted the monitoring of criminals via their electronic ankle bracelets.

And Transport for London (TfL) confirmed to Techweek Europe that the ‘Boris Bike’ (or Barclays Bike Hire) scheme was also impacted.

Criminal Monitoring

The monitoring of ankle tags placed on up to 250 criminals was disrupted by the O2 problem this week, according to the Sun newspaper. Specifically, it seems that the electronic tags belonging to security firm G4S were especially vulnerable to O2’s network outage.

This is because the G4S electronic tags include an O2 SIM card, which according to the Sun stopped working “intermittently” as the signal cut out.

This could have potentially allowed criminals to break their curfews or roam outside their homes, or break any other restrictions imposed on them by the courts.

The O2 network blackout also hit the security vans that transport prisoners from jail to court.

“Some minimal disruption was caused to prison escort service contractors,” a Prison Service spokesman was quoted as saying. “A small number of electronic tags also suffered from intermittent signals.”

“Contingency plans were activated,” said the Prison Service spokesman. “At no time was public safety compromised.”

Security firm G4S agreed with this, when it spoke to Techweek Europe on the matter.

“At any one time we are monitoring 13,500 people on tag, and at no time were any people unmonitored,” a G4S spokesperson told Techweek Europe. She did however admit there was an issue caused by O2’s outage, but this affected a very small number (around 200 people).

“We have fail safes in place in such circumstances when the mobile network goes down, and the system alerts our field monitoring office who dispatch people to monitor people remotely,” the spokesperson told Techweek Europe. She said this is what happened when O2’s network caused it to receive intermittent signals from the people tagged.

Boris Bikes

Meanwhile the O2 outage also caused a problem for users of the so-called “Boris Bike” scheme, which provides bicycles for hire in London.

A TFL spokesperson confirmed to Techweek Europe that O2’s network outage had caused the scheme some disruption.

The spokesman said that approximately 100 docking stations for the bikes went offline on Thursday morning, but normal service was restored later in the afternoon.

TFL said that it operates 570 docking stations for the bike scheme in total, and 100 terminals were taken out service by the O2 outage because they used O2 connections.

Track Record

O2 managed to restore its service late Thursday afternoon after it fixed the two day problem which left many of its customers across the country unable to make or receive calls, send text messages or access data services. O2 said the problem was because some mobile phone numbers were unable to register correctly.

This was the second service outage suffered by O2 subscribers in a matter of weeks, after many customers were unable to send texts briefly in June.

But O2 has suffered previous network mishaps as well.

In May last year for example O2’s network was affected by outages in East London, North London, Kent and Sussex following acts of theft and vandalism. And then in June 2011 it suffered another outage, that left users in parts of East London and Esssex without coverage for about an hour.

But the most embarrassing network outage episode for the operator took place in December 2009, when O2 was forced to admit that a network crash in London was caused by the data strain from the increasing use of smartphones.

Poor Show

The latest O2 outages is concerning for many O2 customers who feel that O2 should have had suitable disaster recovery plans in place. This point wasmade by Askar Sheibani, CEO of IT and telecoms repair company, Comtek.

“O2 has failed to deliver a basic service to its customers in the past few days, leaving hundreds of thousands without not only data services, but also basic call connectivity and the ability to send text messages,” said Sheibani. “To have an entire network down is a poor show for the company, and does not bode well for an operator who plans to deliver 4G services in a year’s time.”

“Mobile phones are an increasingly essential part of day-to-day life for consumers and businesses alike, and incidents such as this are simply unacceptable,” he added. “This failure to deliver basic 2G and 3G services, indicates that O2 may have taken its eye off the ball – ignoring the maintenance of its existing service in the rush to deliver 4G.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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