SingTel fined $4.8m for network outage

Singapore’s telecoms regulator has imposed a financial penalty of S$6m ($4.8m) on mobile operator SingTel following a service outage that lasted nine days and affected almost 270,000 customers.

According to regulator the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) the service disruption was caused by a fire at the Bukit Panjang telephone exchange on October 9 2013, and the affected services were not restored until October 17 2013.

The fire damaged optical cables affecting the fixed voice, internet and mobile services for subscribers in the northern and western regions of Singapore. Residential users, government agencies, businesses and kiosks offering e-commerce and payment services were all affected by the outage.

The IDA found that SingTel, along with passive asset provider CityNet and fibre provider OpenNet, failed to react sufficiently following the outage to restore services as quickly as possible.

The regulator said that the fire was most likely caused by works carried out by SingTel on its cables and said that services could have been restored sooner had the operator enforced its standard operating procedures and work safety practices.

The regulator also identified weaknesses in SingTel’s network and practices, such as using the outdated practice of using lead sealants in the cable chamber, having a single point of failure in the exchange and wrongly assuming that fibre paths were diverse for its enterprise customer services, without fully testing them. The regulator added that the S$6m fine took into consideration that SingTel provided affected users with alternative services during the outage and offered them compensation after the outage.

SingTel has now undertaken to improve its practices and will replace duct seals in exchanges, enhance fire safety measures and install automatic fire suppression systems within cable chambers in all its exchanges. It has also agreed to conduct regular training and assessment of employees on workplace safety, and enhance facilities monitoring.

CityNet, the owner and manager of the exchange was also fined S$300,000 by the IDA as it failed to meet its contractual obligation to maintain the exchange in a satisfactory manner. The firm has also committed to improve controls such as stepping up on the monitoring of maintenance works in its exchanges.

OpenNet was also given a S$200,000 penalty as the IDA found that the firm could have restored services sooner by adopting more appropriate service restoration processes for large scale service disruptions.

“This is a very serious service outage of a magnitude that is unprecedented, but more importantly, that could have been avoided,” said Leong Keng Thai, IDA’s deputy chief executive.

“With increasing dependency of businesses and consumers on telecommunications, a strong signal must be sent to telecommunication operators that they must take network resilience very seriously, and invest in necessary infrastructure, processes and training to prevent and minimise service outages. IDA will closely monitor the operators’ undertaking of the corrective measures and ensure that they are implemented.”

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