Sprint failure halts exchange

A recent double failure in Sprint Canada’s network that shut down trading on Vancouver’s Canadian Venture Exchange for more than two hours will probably not be the customer-relations disaster one might expect, according to one analyst.

“The one thing you won’t find is any competitors gloating, because tomorrow it’s going to happen to them,” said Iain Grant, a telecommunications analyst with The Yankee Group in Canada in Brockville, Ont.

When Bell Canada recently suffered an outage that affected phone service in downtown Toronto for a couple of days, “not one competitor pointed a finger,” Grant said. “We’ve all seen even the best-laid plans have gone awry. This is what keeps (carriers) awake at night.”

According to Sprint Canada, the initial failure on Nov. 28 happened after a contractor doing routine maintenance cut a fibre cable in a railyard southeast of Chicago. For the company, however, the nightmare got worse as a back-up system supplied by Brampton’s Nortel Networks failed to kick in and re-route traffic to Sprint’s “protection channel.”

“Normally what would have happened is that the disruption would have been spotted almost instantaneously, and service would have been re-routed, and no one would have even known about this failure,” said Susan Fraser, a spokesperson for Sprint Canada, a subsidiary of Calgary’s Call-Net Enterprises Inc.

Call-Net’s new President and CEO, Bill Linton, who at the time of the outage was in Vancouver meeting Sprint Canada’s staff for the first time, met with Canadian Venture Exchange officials that day to smooth things over, said Fraser.

“It’s a difficult position (for us) because this isn’t a piece of hardware that we manufacture,” Fraser said.

Fraser described the Nortel hardware that malfunctioned as a circuit pack card. But Nortel spokesperson Tina Warren said an investigation revealed later that the equipment problem, which took place in Winnipeg, was the result of a faulty cable. The company replaced the cable during the next available maintenance window.

“We’re working with Sprint to further improve our preventative maintenance routines in the network, and we audit the network to ensure no other similar issues could occur,” Warren said.

Fraser said that Sprint Canada’s protection channel is routinely tested, though it is uncommon that it has to be used. Sprint Canada has one of the most extensive networks in Canada.

“This is just another example of why, as a company that’s running very mission-critical stuff, you might want to look to a third party to do audits of your network integrity,” said Grant.

The Canadian Venture Exchange did not return Network World Canada‘s calls.