Orange outage: the unexpected consequences for public services


The failure of the Orange telephone network on Wednesday evening, June 3, could have completely unexpected consequences due to the extreme dependence of “utilities” on telecoms. It was not only calls to emergency numbers that were impacted, but also telephone communications passing through the Orange fixed network, formerly France Telecom. Consequences that will only be discovered as the day progresses.

Among the victims of such a breakdown we find the “utilities“or all services such as water, electricity, but also transport for example, which need telephone lines to place certain automatic orders.

Orange telephone network failure: a risk of water shortage?

Take the example of a water tower: it is informed in real time of the water consumption in the city that it serves by a telephone link. While most of them were equipped with wired telephone connections during their construction, in order to remotely control the pumps intended to bring up the water in the water tower, during the replacement of pumps and equipment managing the storage, the fixed line has sometimes been replaced by a mobile line. However, as we know, on the evening of Wednesday 3 June, both the fixed network and the Orange mobile network were disrupted, as well as the mobile networks of the competing operators of the former state monopoly, Orange, formerly France. Telecom.

In any case, when a binary command is sent via a telephone line, (stop / start) and the line does not work, the pump does not start or stop, it is that simple! The system must be able to detect that the order has not been placed, and restart the call, until the order is taken into account. A function that has not always been implemented, both telephone lines, and in particular fixed lines, are considered to be extremely reliable (equivalent to the famous six nine dear to engineers, in other words a reliability rate of 99.999999%).

In other words, many processes simply did not consider that the communication could not pass, or else, provided only a limited number of retries of the attempt. This therefore means that the automatic process went into error last night, and must be restarted by human intervention today, Thursday, June 3.

Fortunately, water towers have a 12 to 24 hour water reserve.

The breakdown of Orange’s telephone network can also impact transport

Normally, SNCF has its own telecommunications network to manage all train signage and switches, all of which are automated. So much so that the SNCF rents its optical fiber network, which runs alongside the tracks, to Internet, fixed and mobile operators, and derives a comfortable fee from it. Nevertheless, a carrier like the SNCF, but also airlines, buses, taxis too, are very heavily dependent on “civilian” telecoms.. So aren’t the controllers’ mobile terminals on the train permanently connected to be able to validate passenger tickets by scanning them and comparing them to a database? For years, the SNCF has entrusted this task to SFR, but in reality, SFR is fully interconnected with the Orange network, and the failure of one causes dysfunctions in the other.

Electricity and Gas: Could the failure of Orange’s telephone network have had consequences?

Here again, EDF, Enedis and Engie normally also have their own telecommunications equipment to manage and administer the network. Remote commands should therefore not normally pass through the fixed telephone network, but through dedicated networks. But all on-call and maintenance teams, in particular those who are at their home, are equally dependent on the conventional telephone network. than mobile to be joined.

Orange breakdown: firefighters and hospitals cut off from the world?

The breakdown of Orange’s telephone network apparently had a particular impact on the routing of telephone calls to emergency numbers. the 15th, 17th, 18th and 112 were totally unreachable for part of the evening of Wednesday, June 2. Ten-digit substitute numbers have been communicated to the French via social networks, but when you are in a panic, calling the emergency short number, and it is unavailable, you don’t really have your head to look for another number on the Internet and panic sets in. Note that these numbers did not come out of the hat by magic. In reality, all emergency services have traditional telephone numbers, to which are added, like an “overlay”, short numbers! It is obviously at the level of the referral of these short numbers, towards the traditional numbers, that the failure manifested itself.

On the other hand, at the level of the organization of the emergency services, the case of a breakdown or a disruption of the means of communication is foreseen. For example, volunteer firefighters, normally reached by mobile phone (most often by SMS, or by an interactive voice server), can be mobilized thanks to … the siren! When this siren is not triggered by a remote telephone command ….

Alarm systems impacted by the failure of Orange’s fixed network

Do you have a cherished country house or city apartment with a few valuables inside? No problem, your alarm is on standby, and will call a monitoring center in the event of a problem … Except that very often, these devices are connected to the telephone network. For a long time this connection was fixed, but in recent years, monitoring service providers have replaced them with mobile connections. In particular to prevent burglars from cutting the telephone wires, but also because Orange’s fixed network is set to disappear.

The same goes for the tens of thousands of supermarkets and warehouses under electronic surveillance whose alarms (burglary, fire, water) are also almost systematically connected to the outside world by the fixed network, but with redundancy on the mobile network, and more and more often also connected via the Internet (triple redundancy).

Also read on the same subject “the top 10 professions most affected by the Orange outage”

To read also on the same subject: “Orange, Free, Blackberry, Bouygues Telecom: stories of breakdowns

Our article was put in images by our colleagues from I-Television. To see it, click here.