Ofcom fines Three UK £1.9m over emergency call network weakness

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

UK regulator “uncovered a weakness" in CK Hutchison's UK mobile operator's emergency call network

Three UK has been hit with a £1.9 million fine by regulator Ofcom over a failure to ensure its customers could contact the emergency services at all times.

UK mobile operators are subject to rules that mean customers must be able to make emergency calls, but an investigation by Ofcom “uncovered a weakness in the mobile operator’s emergency call network.”

On 6 October 2016, CK Hutchison-owned Three suffered a temporary network outage across London, Kent and Hampshire. Ofcom’s investigation into the outage found emergency calls from customers affected were being routed through a data centre, leaving Three’s customers vulnerable to a single point of failure.

Under Ofcom’s rules, operators must guarantee that their network can divert emergency calls down alternative routes in the event of a local outage. Because Three’s network was passing through a single data centre, such back-up routes would have also failed.

Ofcom said that while the vulnerability in Three’s network may not have impacted any customers, the weakness was still in breach of the rules set out by the regulator, fining Three £1.89 million due to the seriousness of the potential impact of any failures.

Gaucho Rasmussen, Ofcom’s Enforcement and Investigations Director, said: “Telephone access to the emergency services is extremely important, because failures can have serious consequences for people’s safety and wellbeing.”

“Today’s fine serves as a clear warning to the wider telecoms industry. Providers must take all necessary steps to ensure uninterrupted access to emergency services.”

The issue highlights the importance for mobile operators in offering diverse routes to support their mobile services.

Three now has 20 days to pay the fine, which was reduced by 30% to reflect the co-operation offered by Three during Ofcom’s investigation. Ofcom also acknowledged that Three has now taken steps to comply with the rule.

In a statement, Three UK said it takes offering uninterrupted access to emergency services “extremely seriously”. It said the vulnerability was identified while the operator experienced an unprecedented fibre break outage in October 2016.

“Providing our customers with uninterrupted access to emergency services is a requirement we take extremely seriously. Three therefore acknowledges Ofcom’s decision today to fine Three for a single point of vulnerability on Three’s network. However, this vulnerability has not had any impact on our customers and only relates to a potential point of failure in Three’s network.

“Ofcom recognises that the circumstances surrounding the October 2016 fibre break outage were exceptional and outside of Three’s control.  As a result, the incident itself was not a breach of Ofcom’s rules.

 “Ofcom has also recognised today that Three has cooperated fully during its investigation and has taken steps to further strengthen the resilience of Three’s network.”