Mobile meltdown: Cellcom says sorry to customers

CEO Shapira says firm will reimburse cost of previous week’s calls and text messages ‘as a gift’ to customers.

Amos Shapira 311 (photo credit: Ron Friedman)
Amos Shapira 311
(photo credit: Ron Friedman)
A day after Cellcom experienced the biggest malfunction in its history, which prevented millions of its mobile phone customers from making calls and sending and receiving text messages for 12 hours, the source of the crash remains unknown.
In a press conference in Tel Aviv on Thursday, Cellcom CEO Amos Shapira said the company would reimburse its customers and work tirelessly to find the source of the problem and make sure that it never repeats itself.
Analysis: Throwing off the cellphone yoke
“Despite the fact that service returned to normal by 9 in the evening yesterday [Wednesday], we don’t consider the problem behind us,” Shapira said.
“We are still operating in an emergency framework and will continue to do so until we determine the precise source of the malfunction. I’m wearing the same shirt that I was wearing yesterday and so are many of our employees. In a briefing to employees, I told them that there is nothing we can do about the malfunction, but that we’ll do everything to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
“Our customers understand that malfunctions occur; what they won’t accept is lack of transparency and honesty. That is why I spoke to the media yesterday and am doing so again today to update our customers on what we’re doing and what we plan to do in the future.”
Shapira announced that Cellcom would reimburse all its customers for all phone calls and text messages communicated in the week before the malfunction, between November 25 and December 1.
“There are no asterisks and no hidden clauses and no exceptions. Please don’t call the customer service centers to see if you qualify. We don’t want the system to crash again because of your calls. The reimbursement is across-the- board. Please accept it as a gift along with our sincere apologies,” Shapira said.
He stressed that the refunds would also be given to those who didn’t suffer as a result of Wednesday’s service crash.
Though the precise cause of the problems is still not known, Shapira said initial investigations indicate it was the result of a “virtual spike” in activity in one of Cellcom’s two main switchboards.
“The malfunction occurred at 9:57 a.m. This is not a time of day that we experience irregular activity and we know that the spike was not caused by excessive use of the network. For a reason that is still not clear, the system experienced what it thought was an extreme spike in activity, which caused it to crash,” Shapira said.
He presented reporters with a graph of Wednesday’s call activity, which showed a “v-shaped” drop throughout the day. At the peak of the malfunction, at 1:17 p.m., only 40 percent of the company’s customers were able to use their phones. After that the graph moved upward until 9:30 p.m., when the system was back at 100% operation.
When asked about the possibility that there was an attack on Cellcom’s network, Shapira, repeated his statement from the previous day, that he could neither confirm nor rule out sabotage.
“It would be much easier for me if I could come out and say that the malfunction was caused by a cyber-terror attack, but we do not have any evidence of that. It is one of the avenues we are investigating, but we simply don’t know yet,” he said.
Asked about system backups and preventative measures that the company could have taken to avoid the malfunction, Cellcom’s chairman of the board Ami Harel said that the company invested in the best equipment and backup systems, including for use in the event of a terrorist attack or a direct missile hit, but that no system could be prepared for all eventualities and that Wednesday’s malfunction was a unique event that could not have been anticipated.
“I’d like to believe that the next time a malfunction of such a magnitude takes place, we will all be sitting in a home for the elderly,” Harel said.

Reporters asked Shapira if he thought the reimbursement would appease their customers and get them to drop any lawsuits they planned to file. Three such class actions, for a total of NIS 2.4 billion, were filed against Cellcom in the courts on Thursday.
Shapira declined to address the lawsuits directly, saying he had yet to receive them, but that he felt Cellcom had done everything possible to remedy the malfunction in a timely manner and that the company had a firm legal standing.