From Friday fun to business: mobile internet outage slowed almost everything

Mobile users woke up to an unannounced outage of high-speed internet that lurched for 12 hours on Friday, a day for weekend fun, shopping and eating out.

Services, such as ridesharing and food delivery apps, were on the blink due to the daylong internet disruption. Some businesses that survive mostly on mobile internet counted losses.

The weekend morning was not as usual for many internet users who were suddenly excluded from social media. The day started with a question – ‘what happened to mobile internet’?    

Many had to change plans as online shopping, transactions and ridesharing were disrupted. People who do not have home WiFi connections were shut out of WhatsApp or Messenger, two popular tools of business.

Bangladesh has more than 125 million internet users with 92 percent of them depending on mobile internet, according to data updated by the telecom regulator until August.

High-speed internet services in six districts were blocked on Wednesday in the wake of attacks on Durga Puja pavilions and temples by religious fanatics.

The communal violence erupted in Cumilla after inciteful posts spread on social media, alleging that the Quran had been dishonoured at a temple. Puja venues were also vandalised in Chandpur, Chattogram, Chapainawabganj and Moulvibazar and clashes resulted in casualties.

The outage was expanded on Friday due to Bijoya Doshomi and Jum’a prayers, officials of telecom operators said, requesting anonymity.   

Those who planned to take a ride from app-based services ran into trouble after going out as drivers of Uber, Pathao and other services could not connect.

People who needed to travel urgently had to take alternative transport. Farhan, a resident of Dhaka who uses Uber to take his mother to hospital for kidney dialysis every Friday, said he hired an autorickshaw despite the hot weather after failing to get a Uber ride.    

Soma, an official of a private organisation, scrapped the plan to go out with her children as the ridesharing services were disrupted.

App-based ride-hailing services were closed because they use mobile internet, said Hussain Elius, CEO of Pathao.

The blackout hampered financial transactions as well. At superstore chain Meena Bazar’s Moghbazar outlet, customers were unable to pay by using the apps of mobile financial services, such as bKash and Nagad. Some customers could not pay by bank card.

A customer, Sumaiya, said she succeeded in paying the bills at a shop after two failed attempts.

The banks alerted their customers via SMS about possible disruptions to online services.

Syed Mahbubur Rahman, managing director of Mutual Trust Bank, said the customers were able to get the online services if they used the internet via WiFi connections, but they could not do transactions on the go.

Mohammad Kamrul, an agent of mobile financial services in Banasree, said they faced problems in transactions as the customers had to use USSD codes instead of the apps.

Courier services said their QR code-based deliveries were hampered by the outage.

The outage shut all sorts of services that depend on SIM-based high-speed mobile internet, said Sumon Ahmed Sabir, chief technology officer at International Internet Gateway or IIG operator Fiber@Home. They included some Point of Sale or POS transactions, mostly at superstores in the cities, and vehicle tracking.

Jahangir Alam Shovon, general manager of e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh, said sales on the digital marketplaces fall by 15 to 20 percent during such daylong outage and the effects remain the following day.