AT&T mobile traffic dropped 10% in some cities during Facebook outage

In the second quarter of 2021, consumers spent a whopping 740 billion hours on social apps. (Getty Images)

AT&T saw notable drops in mobile traffic in major cities earlier this week when Facebook and its popular Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger apps went offline for hours during a massive global outage.

In two cities, mobile traffic declines hit double digits – 11% in New York City and 10.6% in Houston – on Monday during the six-hour period “coinciding with a disruption across several top social media platforms,” the carrier said.

Mobile traffic on AT&T’s network in Arkansas and in Miami/South Florida plunged 9.9% each, while Chicago was down 9.2% during that time.

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The stats give an indicator of just how much traffic is tied to social media and messaging services. As of the end of June, AT&T had more than 191 million mobility subscribers and connections, including connected devices. 

AT&T's head of network infrastructure and build Mo Katibeh posted the New York City figures on LinkedIn, saying: “That's a lot of selfies and dog videos, people!”

AT&T shared stats for six other markets that all saw mobile traffic impacts and were down more than 6%:

  • Los Angeles – 8.8%
  • Dallas – 8.7%
  • Atlanta/North Georgia – 8.6%
  • San Antonio – 7.4%
  • Sacramento – 6.8%
  • San Francisco – 6.7%

Verizon declined to say if the carrier saw a similar network traffic trend during the outage and T-Mobile hasn't shared information about its mobile network usage.  

Facebook’s platforms are used by individuals as well as businesses, with the number of daily average users across the suite of apps approaching 3 billion.

“To all the people and businesses around the world who depend on us, we are sorry for the inconvenience caused by today’s outage across our platforms,” wrote Facebook VP of Infrastructure Santosh Janardhan in a blog about the October 4 outage after services were restored.

The social media giant said global disruption to its platforms and services wasn’t because of any malicious activity, and no user data was compromised. According to Facebook, the problem happened during routine maintenance when a router configuration unintentionally took down its entire backbone network, effectively disconnecting Facebook data centers around the globe.

“Our systems are designed to audit commands like these to prevent mistakes like this, but a bug in that audit tool prevented it from properly stopping the command,” Facebook wrote in a blog. “This change caused a complete disconnection of our server connections between our data centers and the internet.”

The problem cascaded as the backbone network outage saw backup protocols meant to protect access to operational servers and took tools offline that the company would normally use to investigate and resolve the issue.  

Mobile social media apps and the amount of time users spend with them continue to boom. According to AppAnnie, consumers downloaded 4.7 billion social media apps in the first half of 2021 alone. In the second quarter of 2021, consumers spent a whopping 740 billion hours on social apps, which the research firm said equates to 44% of all time spent on mobile.

Facebook’s massive outage came the same week as a whistleblower testified before Congress over internal documents showing harms from the tech giant's products.