AT&T’s botched network update caused yesterday’s major wireless outage

Enlarge / Cellular towers in Redondo Beach, California on February 22, 2024.

Getty Images | Eric Thayer

AT&T said a botched update related to a network expansion caused the wireless outage that disrupted service for many mobile customers yesterday.

“Based on our initial review, we believe that today’s outage was caused by the application and execution of an incorrect process used as we were expanding our network, not a cyber attack,” AT&T said on its website last night. “We are continuing our assessment of today’s outage to ensure we keep delivering the service that our customers deserve.”

While “incorrect process” is a bit vague, an ABC News report that cited anonymous sources said it was a software update that went wrong. AT&T hasn’t said exactly how many cellular customers were affected, but there were over 70,000 problem reports on the DownDetector website yesterday morning.

The outage began early in the morning, and AT&T said at 11:15 am ET yesterday that “three-quarters of our network has been restored.” By 3:10 pm ET, AT&T said it had “restored wireless service to all our affected customers.”

We asked AT&T for more information on the extent of the outage and its cause today, but a spokesperson said the company had no further comment.

FCC investigates

The outage was big enough that the Federal Communications Commission said its Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau was actively investigating. The FCC also said it was in touch with FirstNet, the nationwide public safety network that was built by AT&T. Some FirstNet users reported frustrations related to the outage.

The San Francisco Fire Department said it was monitoring the outage because it appeared to be preventing “AT&T wireless customers from making and receiving any phone calls (including to 911).” The FCC sometimes issues fines to telcos over 911 outages.

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency reportedly said it was looking into the outage, and a White House spokesperson said the FBI was checking on it, too. But it was determined pretty quickly that the outage wasn’t caused by cyber-attackers.

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