Japan suffers terrible cell phone blackout

Tens of millions of mobile phone users in Japan were unable to go online for most of the weekend in what would be the country’s worst service outage in terms of the number of lines affected.

Mobile phone company KDDI said the disruption started early Saturday and continued through Sunday, although some users were still experiencing issues on Monday.

The unprecedented outage affected nearly 40 million customers, about a third of the country’s population, national broadcaster NHK reported.

Affected services included KDDI’s “au” brand, as well as customers of UQmobile and Povo services, which use KDDI’s infrastructure.

It’s not entirely clear what caused the failure, although KDDI said it started when engineers were installing new equipment.

Users, some of whom were business customers, were unable to make calls or use the internet, forcing those desperate to make a call to borrow a friend’s phone or search for one of the decreasing numbers of public payphones.

Unable to make calls, do online banking, arrange deliveries, book rides and take advantage of the myriad other services normally available to phone users, tens of millions of repeat customers were extremely frustrated.

Communications Minister Kaneko Yasushi said the incident was concerning as it also made it difficult for some services to respond to emergency calls.

Responding to the debacle on Sunday while delivering the usual apology arc, KDDI Chairman Takahashi Makoto said he recognized the outage as a “serious incident” and promised his company would respond appropriately in accordance with Japanese law.

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