Vodafone’s mobile network is facing turmoil in Egypt: voice services and mobile Internet services appear to now be working, according to a spokesperson. But now it is emerging that although the text network is still not online for the general population, the state this week has been using it to send pro-government messages to users.
Last week, Vodafone was told by the Egyptian government to switch off its network in the midst of the protests in the country. Today, CEO Vittorio Colao updated reporters on the situation, says Reuters: No voice and text, but mobile internet is working. “It is not in our power,” he said. “It will be restored when we are authorised. We are in a continuous dialogue with government on keeping our services up. But this is a country that still has a curfew in place.”
Now it appears the story is a little more complicated.
While a Vodafone spokesperson this afternoon told us the voice network now appears to be up and running, Vodafone is now facing a different issue: mobile users in Egypt have been posting screenshots on Twitter of text messages from the Vodafone network, which were sent by the government in support of itself, during the protests on Wednesday.
It turns out that this is affecting all mobile operators in the country, not just Vodafone (NYSE: VOD). A spokesperson from Vodafone pointed out to mocoNews that Vodafone is the only one that is bringing this issue to light — and therefore appearing as if it is the only network being used in this way.
In a statement posted on its website, Vodafone condemned these actions, saying they were out of the operators’ control:
Under the emergency powers provisions of the Telecoms Act, the Egyptian authorities can instruct the mobile networks of Mobinil, Etisalat and Vodafone to send messages to the people of Egypt. They have used this since the start of the protests. These messages are not scripted by any of the mobile network operators and we do not have the ability to respond to the authorities on their content.
Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable. We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator.
A little background on what happened with the Vodafone network, from the operator’s point of view: “We were instructed to take it down,” the spokesperson told mocoNews. “We know that if we said no it would be a simple exercise for the government to say we’ll bring it down anyway. Had that happened it would have taken us much longer to get it back up and running.”
Some might argue that Vodafone should not think of profit in times of political crisis, but Vodafone says that was not its only motivating factor: ‘We have thousands of employees in Egypt and we have a concern for their safety,” said the spokesperson. “One sanction for refusing to obey the law is imprisonment.’ Currently, Vodafone has noted that two of its employees have been injured, and one whose whereabouts are unkown.
The confusing turmoil in the country comes at a bad time for Vodafone: countries like Egypt are becoming increasingly important for the operator, which has been shifting a lot of its investment to developing, high-growth markets, as evidenced in todays’ interim results. Read a report on those numbers here.