July 12, 2022•1,013 words
(Or: How to be totally unprepared for the worst)
On July 8, the past Friday, I woke up in the morning as usual, with the sun shining directly into my eyes. I let out a long yawn, blamed the sun, proceeded to check my phone, and realized that it has somehow lost the cell signal. Weird, I thought, at least I still have Wi-Fi -- but none of my chat apps showed any updates past around 4 am that morning. I opened my browser to check, only to be confronted with a connection failure message. As a first instinct, I thought that there must be something wrong with my router, or my Ethernet cable might have been pulled out for whatever reason. Too lazy to get up from my bed, I rebooted the router from the web interface on my phone and waited. When the router came back up, nothing changed. I then suspected that it was either the cable or the building's internet routing, thus I checked the DHCP status on my router, which showed up as online with an assigned local IP address.
At this point, I was still very confused, and had no idea the absolute chaos I was in. I had to get up to do more checking, when I realized that one of my phones, which was using a roaming data plan from an eSIM provider, had signal. That one provider was able to roam on Bell, while all the other SIMs I had are on Rogers either natively or by roaming. This is when I started to realize maybe something was wrong with the carrier Rogers, but I still believed that the issue was probably local. However, I then tried to reach out to a few friends in Canada, and whether they live near or far from me, they all reported the same issue with their Rogers uplink.
It can't be a nation-wide Rogers outage, right? Such a large carrier cannot just go out at once across the entire country, right? Or so I thought. But typing in "Rogers outage" in Google resulted in dozens of news articles about an ongoing outage that started around 3 - 4 am that morning. That was when I started to realize how bad things are on that Friday. Though, I was still under the impression that such a critical failure cannot last for more than a few hours, but as time passed, there was no sign of a recovery, and it was soon time for a lunch. But wait -- aren't the PoS machines at the restaurants and shops also usually connected with the Rogers network? If everything are down on Rogers, then those machines would likely not be working either.
If PoS stop working, then I could at least get some cash, but wait, the ATMs also operate on mobile networks, don't they? In fact, after a bit of digging around using my only backup data connection, it seems to be even worse: the entire Interac system, the inter-bank network that handles transaction between Canadian banks, runs exclusively on the Rogers network. Consequently, everything that goes through Interac, including debit card transactions and online money transfer (e-Transfer), is impossible when Rogers was completely down. This, of course, also includes all ATM transactions. In fact, even if Interac was still working, it would still be kind of problematic to access funds in banks, because many banks require 2FA based on SMS, which in turn is sent through the Rogers network. This happened to all of my bank / credit card accounts, except one which supports 2FA through email.
After a bit of searching, I managed to find a few CA$10 bills lying around somewhere below a bunch of miscellaneous items, and was able to grab a lunch outside. It turned out that some of the shops also still had a backup connection running, which could support transactions via non-Interac providers, such as Visa and Mastercard. But some of them were not so lucky, and some even had to close down for the entire day because of the inability to process payments or the over-dependence on internet-based services for ordering.
I was lucky that payment was basically the only somewhat major inconvenience the outage has caused me. I was lucky that I had a bit of cash lying around, which allowed me to grab a lunch and purchase a bit of grocery items on the way back. I was lucky that I had a backup data plan, which enabled me not to be completely radio silent during that day. I was lucky that I had no emergencies that required a call to 911, whose service was also spotty due to the nonfunctional cell towers. We were lucky that it was only Rogers who had issues on that day, and the other carriers did not end up crumbling under the drastically increased load as one other big carrier broke down. But others are not so lucky, and if this happens for a second time, I cannot guarantee that I would still be this lucky.
Rogers was mostly brought back online by the end of that day in my area. However, with a series of bad luck, things much worse than this could have happened. Imagine if one more carrier succumbed to the increased load, or the outage lasted much longer with the cell towers completely nonfunctional, or that this was caused by a natural disaster rather than human error. Even though I did not have a lot of inconvenience to speak of, this still made me realize how unprepared I was to this kind of events. How could I have only so little cash available at hand? How could I have only one working backup data plan (note: these are actually kind of cheap due to them being roaming eSIMs)? How could I not have enough grocery at home to last a few days? And how could I not have any backup communication plans other than the internet?
I'll have to be way better prepared even if this will never happen again.