Vodafone scrambles to recover as burglary disconnects thousands

Hundreds of thousands of Vodafone customers were left unable to use their phones yesterday after important communications equipment was stolen during a break-in at one of the company's technical facilities near Basingstoke in Hampshire.

Voice calls, texts, mobile internet and voicemail were all disabled for some customers as early as 12.50am. Services were gradually restored throughout the morning, although many customers said they were still disconnected well into the afternoon.

A spokeswoman said: "We had a break-in last night at one of our technical facilities which resulted in damage done to some of our equipment. This means that some customers may be experiencing temporary loss of voice, SMS and internet services. We are working quickly to restore these and will be back to normal as soon as we can."

The spokeswoman confirmed that the incident affected "hundreds of thousands" of Vodafone's total customer base of 19 million. She described it as a "fairly serious incident", saying nothing of its kind had occurred before.

As Vodafone customers complained on the social networking site Twitter about their lack of service (although not, presumably, via their own mobile phones), speculation grew that the company had been victim of a concerted attack. It was recently the subject of protests over claims that it was let off paying part of an outstanding UK tax bill, and had also been criticised for shutting down its phone network in Egypt during the recent pro-democracy protests.

But the spokeswoman said the stolen equipment, described as computer and network hardware, "had serious value" and had not been sabotaged but "carefully removed."

She stressed that there had been no impact on the privacy of customer's data.

The area affected was, she said, "primarily the M4 corridor and some areas either side."

By 1pm Vodafone said it had restored all 2G and 3G voice services and was working to get voicemail and text messaging back up and running. By 6pm much of the service had been restored, although "a few isolated pockets" remained disconnected. Vodafone said it hoped services would be fully restored by the end of the day.

The company would not comment in more detail on the precise nature of the highly specialised equipment, or what use it might have in the outside world. The facility is believed to house equipment worth many millions of pounds.

As angry customers waited to be reconnected last night, many were asking for compensation for the inconvenience, although that seems unlikely. "We never guarantee a 24-hour service," the spokeswoman said. "There are too many variables to make that possible. That is in our terms and conditions.

"All of our focus today has been on network restoration. But we will look into everything that has occurred today, and everything will be subject to review."

The burglars were reported to have smashed their way into the building using sledgehammers, a far cry from the cyber-crime that companies and individuals are forever being told they must protect themselves from.

As the rage escalated on Twitter from the many thousands unable to use their phones, one user, Stephanie Clark, was more philosophical. "It's days like today when you wonder how we ever lived without a mobile phone?" she wrote.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable