T-Mobile Network Almost Brought Down By Instant Messaging App?

This story has been floating around since the 14th and it’s only now that I’ve had a chance to wrap my head around it. The guys at Fierce Wireless, eagle eyed as they are managed to uncover some juicy details in an FCC filing regarding an Android Instant Messaging program that almost brought down the entire T-Mobile network in an unknown city.

“T-Mobile network service was temporarily degraded recently when an independent application developer released an Android-based instant messaging application that was designed to refresh its network connection with substantial frequency,” Castle wrote in the filing. “The frequent refresh feature did not create problems during the testing the developer did via the Wi-Fi to wireline broadband environment, but in the wireless environment, it caused severe overload in certain densely populated network nodes, because it massively increased signaling–especially once it became more popular and more T-Mobile users began downloading it to their smartphones. One study showed that network utilization of one device increased by 1,200 percent from this one application alone. These signaling problems not only caused network overload problems that affected all T-Mobile broadband users in the area; it also ended up forcing T-Mobile’s UMTS radio vendors to re-evaluate the architecture of their Radio Network Controllers to address this never-before-seen signaling issue. Ultimately, this was solved in the short term by reaching out to the developer directly to work out a means of better coding the application.”

This whole thing is beyond my scope of development knowledge but when the carrier has to reach out to the developer to fix a problem, that’s obviously not a good sign. As Fierce Wireless points out, this one again highlights the troubles facing wireless carriers in this new age of significant data traffic flowing along their networks. T-Mobile Director of National Planning, Grant Castle argues that carriers must be allowed to “prioritize data and manage applications via techniques including scheduling algorithms, channel selection and, possibly, dividing applications up by frequency

The boys at Fierce Wireless put together an interesting piece regarding this and it’s worth hitting the link for the read!

Fierce Wireless

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  • Pimpstrong

    Thirst! Man I could use a refreshing beverage!

    • David, Managing Editor

      Cute, very cute :-)

    • David Thomas

      I see what you did there! :D

  • Jed Clamped

    I wish I knew what app it was.


    • Trollface.jpg

      No first for you!

    • Magenta Magic

      See Tosh.0’s segment about “First”? Check it out…

  • Jazz


  • dethduck

    Somehow this whole thing wreaks of a staged excuse to go against net neutrality and legitimize the practice of throttling and data tiering. Or maybe I just read too many conspiracy sites. yeah, probably the latter.

    • Magenta Magic

      Agree. to the former, that is.

    • bryan

      Wireless is not the same as wireline broadband. Wireline bandwidth is only limited by the willingness of providers to build a network capable of providing it. Wireless bandwidth is restricted to the amount of spectrum made available by the FCC. One of the FCC’s goals is to increase the amount of spectrum available for wireless broadband in the future because of this issue. That is the big difference.
      Net neutrality regulations that restrict the ability for carriers to manage the data moving over the networks will result in higher data prices and the end to unlimited data. The only way for carriers to deal with data use in a net neutral way is to price data so the the expense prevents heavy usage by average consumers. Be prepared for your data plans to get more expensive under net neutral legislation.
      Net neutrality = Tiered or per Mb pricing.

      Net netrality is a good goal but the reality is that wireline and wireless are very different environments and treating them the same will not work.

  • andrew


  • David Thomas

    As much as I’m all for Net Neutrality, I honestly feel that wireless carriers should be exempt, for this very reason. I’d rather have a closed [wireless] web with reliable phone service, than an open [wireless] web that goes down when I need it. Let’s face it, you don’t want a 911 or important business call being dropped when you need it most.

  • Rick

    OK, I’m REALLY confused, Why would anyone write, or why would we even need an app for instant messaging when instant messaging is already built into the phones OS? i.e. AIM, Gtalk, Yahoo, etc

    • Chevyrockstar

      Same reason people download Handcent SMS instead of using the stock system one, its “better”

  • LarryH

    i believe in throttling idk why everyone complains about it i rather be throttle the have my service cut off ugh mmm (sprint, verison)

  • some internet dude

    This was an unintentional unique identifier DOS style attack, The DEV way over estimated the reconnect time out because he was testing on WiMax.

  • bryan

    The issue here is not the amount of data that was transmitted by the app but the frequency that it was trying to establish / reestablish a connection to the network. The app was connecting and disconnecting from the network enough to over tax the signaling channel of the cell network. This is a relatively new type of issue for cell networks since regular phones only connect through the signaling channel when starting or receiving a call or when changing towers. Because of this, signaling channels are very small bandwidth. It is not an issue of how much data is transmitted once connected but how often the app tried to connect.

    This was not an issue in the past because older smartphones (windows mobile, blackberry) maintained a constant data connection even when not transmitting or receiving, new smartphone OSs disconnect and reconnect to the data network as needed to save battery life.

  • Vibrant Addict

    I would guess it’s a city in Florida, as I’ve never dropped to GPRS and I recently did one night.

    • 305

      Yep, I would have to say South Florida. Had some weird stuff going on recently.

  • vincent

    rethink your headlines.

  • j

    i bet it was BBM, its gotten really popular lately and every1 was downloading it when they released 5.0

    • David, Managing Editor

      I think you missed the part about it being an Android app!

  • Nokia Guy

    Well Chicago’s UMTS (3G) network was down. We had to switch our phones to GSM (2G). I remember my phone was acting up and my signal would go in and out. it would stay for 2 seconds then go out for a few minutes.

  • Glenn

    Duh. Was this little app called “MyDDos”? (’cause that’s what it sounds like)

  • Jack Kwack

    This sounds totally made up. Why would a problem with an app only affect one city? Why not a few? Why not all of them?

    This just doesn’t add up. Don’t try to BS a BSer.

  • andrew

    im starting to hate tmobile

  • Tmo User

    Considering that the FCC has to be contacted and advised when and why there is an outage by any telecom provider or face legal action I highly doubt it is a BS claim. People need to learn to read up and educate them selves on how things work in this world before responding to certain types of posts.

  • Blktalon

    That is total bs. They should thank their lucky stars that this showed up and they were able to correct the bug in their system. I work for a large telecom company and we routinely contact the manufacturer be it Moto, Alcatel, or Tellabs for fixes to bugs just like this. Building a network with no protection for this type of issue is Stupid. Its effectively a ddos attack, god forbid anyone really targets their network.

  • nr hax

    when the my touch hd comes out it will bring the network down for how crappy it truely is

  • Jim

    I wonder if it was Fort Collins, Colorado because on the 12th we had a major slowdown that quickly turned into a total shutdown of the entire T-Mobile network in a college town of 140,000 that lasted 6 hours. During that time, you couldn’t make or receive calls, text messages took up to an hour to be received, and there was no data connectivity.