Widespread AT&T Outages May Have Had Mutiple Possible Causes

ECE Assistant Research Professor Michele Polese and ECE Professor Josep Jornet suggest many possible causes of the widespread AT&T cellphone outages Thursday morning.

This article originally appeared on Northeastern Global News. It was published by Tanner Stening. Main photo: A woman holding a cell phone walks past an AT&T retail store in New York, NY, February 22, 2024. AT&T customers have been affected by nationwide cellular outages as the company reports that it is working on the widespread cellular disruption. (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

What could have caused the widespread AT&T outages? Experts explain

It’s still too early to know what caused widespread cellphone outages in the U.S. Thursday morning primarily affecting AT&T customers, but experts say the countrywide problem is “not something you see every day.”

“This happens very rarely,” says Michele Polese, a principal research scientist at the Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things at Northeastern.

At its peak, more than 71,000 AT&T customers were affected just before 8 a.m. EST on Thursday — a number that fell rapidly as the day went on. Outages also reportedly affected T-Mobile and Verizon customers, but to a much lesser extent.

Possible causes of the outages include software update errors, problems in network infrastructure, such as the “core network,” or cyberattacks (although, Northeastern experts stress, it’s less likely to be a cyberattack).

“These systems are extremely complex,” Polese says. “There are many aspects of the system that need to work seamlessly together so that the system as a whole behaves as intended.”

Because the outages are so widespread, it’s unlikely that the problem is tied to more localized phenomena, such as weather conditions or a particular construction incident affecting critical network infrastructure, says Josep Jornet, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern.

“This is a distributed problem,” Jornet says. “Put it this way. If suddenly everyone using AT&T in Boston loses access, then we know that this is a problem on the Boston side of the infrastructure — a result of, for example, some construction workers somewhere breaking the core of optical fibers.”

Read full story at Northeastern Global News

Related Faculty: Michele Polese, Josep M Jornet

Related Departments:Electrical & Computer Engineering