By Bob Sullivan Technology correspondent
msnbc.com
updated 6/8/2005 1:05:25 PM ET 2005-06-08T17:05:25

A software upgrade that went awry is being blamed for a two-hour outage this morning that left Sprint and Qwest customers in Colorado and Wyoming without mobile phone service.

The trouble began at 5:30 a.m. local time, said Sprint spokesman Dave Mellin. Service was restored by 8:30 a.m. 

"It affected customers from Cheyenne to Colorado Springs," Mellin said.  He said he didn't know how many consumers were affected, but the outage impacted the sizeable Denver market. He said the outage impacted about half of customers in the area. "We do upgrades all the time, and we rarely have issues, but today we do."

Qwest consumers who called a customer service line to complain heard a pre-recorded message indicating there was a "known outage."

"If you are calling from the Colorado and Wyoming area, please be advised there is a known outage. Technicians are onsite and working on the problem," the message said.

Qwest offers wireless service in 13 western U.S. states, stretching from Minnesota to Arizona. According to its Web site, Qwest has 743,000 mobile customers.  Sprint offers nationwide service.

Qwest doesn't operate its own wireless network; rather it rents space from Sprint.  Qwest spokesman Michael Dunne blamed the outage on Sprint.

"While we are engaged and want to take care of our customers, this is an issue with Sprint's network," he said.  He said the outage impacted a few dozen cell towers.

Such outages are not infrequent. In 1999, AT&T Wireless customers in much of New York City and northern New Jersey suffered a 22-hour outage after a hardware failure. In 2001, 2.6 million Rogers customers in Canada suffered intermittent outages for about 11 hours.

And earlier this month, Cingular customers in Kentucky were unable to use their phones for several hours.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that firms must report cell phone outages that last more than 10 minutes, citing possible safety concerns.

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