MTN problem
  • MTN customers in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban complained of outages in their voice and data connections on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
  • It first told customers that it had a technical glitch with "coverage", then told Business Insider it had "technical issues related to a charging node", and then cited a fibre break due to vandalism.
  • MTN confirms that "thousands" of customers around the country at a time were affected.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.


MTN on Thursday confirmed that thousands of its customers at a time were "impacted" by data and voice problems in various parts of South Africa on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

MTN users in mainly Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban complained that they could not make voice calls or send WhatsApp messages, while some said their wifi routers would not connect to the internet for hours at a time.

Reports submitted to the Downdetector service suggest that the problems peaked at around 10PM on Tuesday, 8 October.

MTN initially told Business Insider South Africa that it "experienced an intermittent network disruption that affected data services in select areas" on the two nights.

The "service disruption was attributable to technical issues related to a charging node, which is affecting a select database of subscribers", the company said.

It described a charging node as a platform that allows subscribers to access its services based on their profile and product subscription.

Asked which geographic areas were affected, however, the company said, for the first time, that it had experienced a break in a fibre optic cable between Centurion and Johannesburg – due to vandalism.

The impact of that one cable break "was felt at a national level at varying degrees and at different times over the period".

"Data and voice services were impacted and the impact was felt by several thousand customers at any given time," MTN said.

When Business Insider pointed out that MTN's explanation appeared to be shifting, the company provided a more detailed explanation. One fibre link had been broken by vandalism, it said, and a second fibre link "also suffered a failure" several hours.later.

"This event was unavoidable and MTN immediately reacted by performing optimisation of core flows to minimise the effect on customers services in the affected period; while the fibre repairs continued in the background. These core flows were optimised over two evenings due to complexity of the operation."

Several affected customers complained that they could not figure out what the problem was, even after multiple calls to MTN support. Asked about communication on the outage, MTN said it had "communicated with our customers via social media platforms".

Business Insider could find no mention of the issue on the MTN South Africa Facebook page, which is followed by more than 1.4 million people. No notice was posted on MTN South Africa's Twitter account, which has a million followers. Instead the account replied to users who complained about outages directly.

On 8 October some of those Twitter users were told that MTN was aware of the problem, while others were asked for more details. On the morning of 9 October other individuals were told the issue had been resolved, as others were simultaneously told it was still being dealt with. 

Where customers were given any explanation, they were told MTN had experienced a "technical glitch with our coverage".

Asked about its social media approach, MTN said it was satisfied with its "correct and considered approach for the scale of the problem", which only affected a fraction of its customers.

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