June 25, 2019 / 7:48 AM / 21 days ago

Dutch investigate KPN network outage, company blames software bug

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government launched an inquiry on Tuesday into a nationwide network outage at telecoms company KPN that knocked out emergency service numbers for nearly four hours, with the company pointing the finger at a software error.

FILE PHOTO: KPN headquarters is seen in Rotterdam, Netherlands, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo

Monday’s network problem, which rendered national police, ambulance and fire department emergency numbers unreachable, did not appear to be the result of a security breach, KPN said.

It said in a statement on Tuesday the outage appeared to have been caused by “a mistake in the software” of its call routing systems.

Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus told Dutch lawmakers that during the outage three KPN backup systems had failed, and the government had moved to an “analog” play-book crafted for situations in which digital services failed.

That involved sending police and firefighters on to the street and directing people with health emergencies to seek their own transportation to hospitals.

There were no reports of serious mishaps as a result of the outage, which prompted calls for a change in the system.

“I want to investigate thoroughly how the outage at KPN could have started and the consequences for emergency services, and then also look at how the crisis management went,” Grapperhaus said in the Dutch parliament.

KPN SAYS SORRY

In addition to other problems, a new national alert system that posts messages directly to cell phones had failed to work in many cases, and sent multiple messages in others.

And in one message it accidentally listed a newspaper’s tip-line as an alternate phone number for emergency services.

“If three fail-safes don’t work then something is seriously wrong,” Socialist Party lawmaker Ronald van Raak said.

“If there is such bungling at KPN then we should make sure that a different provider, a different telecommunications company can take it over, right?”

Grapperhaus agreed he would look at the possibility.

“We offer our sincere apologies to our customers and Dutch society,” said Joost Farwerck, KPN’s Chief Operations Officer, in a statement.

“KPN suspects that there was a mistake in the software that occurred in all four routing systems at once.”

KPN was privatized in the 1990s but is still the country’s largest telecoms group, followed by subsidiaries of Vodafone and T-Mobile.

Two people died during an outage of the Dutch emergency services numbers in 2012 and then-Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten said measures had been taken to prevent a recurrence.

CEO TO LEAVE

The morning after the outage KPN announced that chief executive Maximo Ibarra will leave due to “family reasons” after a little over a year in the job, adding that the Colombian-Italian executive’s decision was not linked to the outage.

Ibarra will return to Italy where he will take charge of Comcast’s Sky Italia pay-television business, two sources close to the matter said..

FILE PHOTO: CEO Maximo Ibarra from KPN poses after the presentation of the company's financial results for the fourth quarter and full year 2018 in Rotterdam, Netherlands, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo

“I regret the timing, but family reasons gave me no choice,” Ibarra said in a statement. “I will dedicate myself in the coming months to securing a seamless transfer to my successor.”

Ibarra will stay at KPN, whose shares traded 1.7% lower by 1515 GMT, until the end of September as it seeks a replacement.

KPN has sold its international activities and now only serves the Dutch market, selling bundles of telephone, internet and TV services to consumers and businesses.

Reporting by Toby Sterling; additional reporting by Elvira Pollina in Milan.; Editing by Louise Heavens, Keith Weir and Alexander Smith

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