Docomo service disruption shows need for responsibility on security

REUTERS/Issei Kato
The logo of NTT Docomo is displayed at its shop in Tokyo, Japan September 29, 2020.

A widespread communications failure occurred at NTT Docomo Inc. In addition to telephone calls, various other services, such as electronic payments, were affected. Docomo should reaffirm its grave responsibility and take all possible measures to prevent a recurrence.

From around 5 p.m. on Oct. 14, it became difficult for Docomo mobile phone users nationwide to make phone calls or access the internet. As a result, many people who had intended to meet that evening were unable to arrange times and places. In addition, other services, such as electronic payments for taxis and bicycle sharing services, became unavailable.

It also reportedly hampered the work of a food delivery service that accepts orders through smartphone apps.

With the advance in digitization in society, services based on the use of data communications have been expanding. Docomo must take seriously the inconvenience it caused to many users.

Docomo said about 2 million people were unable to use their mobile phones at all for more than two hours. However, considering that other people had difficulty making phone calls or were unable to use other services, the impact of the communications glitch must have been even greater. The mobile phone carrier needs to closely examine the whole situation.

According to Docomo, a glitch took place in the process of switching to new equipment servers for storing location information data related to electronic payment devices in taxis and vending machines. When old servers were put back into use, there was a massive flow of data, putting an excessive burden on the communications network.

Although the company explained that it incorrectly estimated the processing capability, a detailed investigation of the cause is indispensable.

Docomo announced at 8 p.m. on Oct. 14 that the services had been “restored.” However, some lines continued to have difficulty being connected due mainly to a sudden increase of communications volume as many people tried to use their phones in a concentrated period of time.

All lines, including those of older types of mobile phones called flip phones, were available by 10 p.m. the following day, 29 hours after the communications glitch happened.

It seems that the lack of explanations may have exacerbated the confusion. It is important for the company to carefully disseminate information and establish a system that will enable quick recovery.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, judging that the communications glitch was a “serious accident” under the Telecommunications Business Law, reportedly planned to direct Docomo to report on the case in detail. The central government also needs to examine the problem and give an instruction to the company for improving its operations.

Meanwhile, from the night of Oct. 17 to 18, some of Docomo’s corporate clients became unable to operate their smartphones, finding their screens locked. The company said the problem was caused by a glitch in an information leakage prevention service provided by an external firm.

From daily life to business, smartphones have become an essential part of our infrastructure. It is hoped that related companies will reexamine their measures again to prevent such communications glitches.