Cellcom network crashes, 3.3 million without service

CEO Amos Shapira says it is the worst technical problem since the company was founded, doesn't rule out deliberate attack.

December 1, 2010 21:57
3 minute read.
A  cell phone user [illustrative]

Cellphone user 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Millions of Cellcom mobile phone users around the country were unable to make calls or send and receive text messages on Wednesday after a malfunction occurred in Cellcom’s core network.

This was the worst technical problem since the founding of the company, Cellcom CEO Amos Shapira told reporters at an evening press conference in Tel Aviv.

Analysis: Throwing off the cellphone yoke

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“At this point we can’t rule out a deliberate attack on our network,” Shapira said.

Though service was available in some parts of the country, it is estimated that about half of a total of 3.3 million Cellcom customers were unable to use their phones. The malfunction began at roughly 10 a.m., and service was only restored to most customers late Wednesday evening.

Shapira said that Cellcom’s technicians were working relentlessly to identify the problem and that Cellcom’s vice president of technology was collaborating with Nokia engineers in Finland to find a solution.

“I took the time to speak to the media, because it is important for me to look our customers in the eye and apologize to them,” he added. “Millions of users did not receive the standard of service they have come to rely on, and for that I sincerely apologize. I can guarantee that none of us will be leaving to light the first Hanukka candle with our families until a solution is found.”

Shapira would speculate on neither the time it would take to solve the problem, nor what the precise nature of the problem was. He said he would notify the media and the public the moment he had any exact information.

Shapira also refused to address the issue of reimbursements or compensation for failing to provide service, claiming that at the moment he was only concerned with solving the technical problem and resuming service to the customers, and would deal with other issues after the problem gets solved.

Customers who attempted to gain additional information from Cellcom’s customer service centers were met with busy signals. The company’s website ran an apology to the customers, but urged them not to call the call center.

In an interview for Channel 2 News, Shapira said that he could not rule out the possibility that Cellcom’s network was attacked by an external source, but added that they had “no evidence that a cyber terror attack had taken place.”

Cellcom’s stock fluctuated throughout the day in response to the malfunction.

Initially the stock dropped 1.25 points, but rebounded and ended up gaining a point by closing.

One company that benefited from Cellcom’s loss was Bezeq, which reported a 20 percent increase in landline usage throughout the day, mainly from Cellcom customers whose mobile phones failed them or from people who tried to reach Cellcom users in their homes or offices.

The last time Cellcom dealt with a severe technical problem was 15 years ago, shortly after the company was founded.

Then the company had to recall more than 60,000phones and opened special customer service centers to handle the flood of complaints. This time the problem is not with the phones, but rather in the central network software, so no recalls are expected.

As far as the customers were concerned, there was a divide between those who were upset over the loss of use of their phones and complained of lost business or missed appointments and those who were pleased at the rare respite from constant ringing that the malfunction afforded them.

“It’s actually kind of nice not being available for a little while,” said Ofer Dovrat, a 23-year-old freelance graphic designer from Tel Aviv. “If I really need to make a call, I can always use the landline.

People have gotten so used to being constantly available, that they can’t deal with a few hours without their cellphone.”

Dovrat said that he would be less pleased about the situation if he discovered that his phone continued to be unavailable for an extended period.

“It’s nice for a day, but I don’t think I could survive for long without my phone.”

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