Australia’s largest telco, Telstra had its fourth major outage in less than two months, caused by its fourth separate problem.
Just after midday, customers across the country, mainly in Victoria, NSW and Tasmania were not able to make or receive calls on their mobile phones. The outage lasted for several hours, with Telstra claiming to have resolved the issue at 1pm.
However, both social media and first-hand accounts in our office showed that the issue was still very much rampant up until around 5pm.
The telco also claimed that the issue was affecting just 3% of customers, but again, judging by social media and first-hand accounts with Telstra customers, we couldn’t find someone on the network who wasn’t being hit.
Telstra says the disruption was caused by a card failure in one of its media gateways, in Victoria, which allows calls to connect.
But what’s most concerning about this isn’t the individual network failure, but the fact that all four failures across Telstra’s network over the last two months have been caused by different issues.
The first outage on February 10 saw Telstra’s chief operating officer Kate McKenzie blame the problem on “human error”, after one engineer restarted without following standard procedure, a malfunctioning core node, which provides network access for large areas. This then caused customers to be pushed onto other nodes throughout Telstra’s networks, resulting in significant congestion and eventually failure. A free data day was given to customers as an apology.
Telstra hasn’t said what caused its second outage on March 2, which affected only prepaid customers from making calls and using data. However, due to the nature of it solely affecting prepaid users, it’s safe to assume it was software related.
On March 17, Telstra’s national network again went down for around four hours in the evening, resulting in phone calls and data being affected in the busy commuting and shopping hours. This failure was believed to be caused by a submarine cable issue, as a result it pushed congestion on the network and devices were struggling to register on the network, resulting in failed calls and data connections.
Coincidentally, on the morning of March 17, Telstra outlined network failure as a potential risk in its annual debt issuance program.
After the first national outage, the telco said it would make sure it never happened again. Then after the second time, CEO Andy Penn, came out to apologise personally, saying, “One outage is not good enough … and two is absolutely not acceptable and all I can do is apologise and say I’m committed to address this and do everything we can to ensure it doesn’t recur.”
Yet it did happen again.
There’s something fundamentally going wrong at Telstra that needs to be fixed. Whether that’s a complacency, a culture shift caused by a former CFO now running the place that’s more focused on international investment or simply just underlying network problems.
But if this doesn’t get fixed, Telstra is walking into a perfect storm, with more demand than ever for data on a network and company that needs fixing.
Just look at what happened to Vodafone. It got caught napping in 2010 with the first data demand shift and lost more than two million customers as a result of network problems.
Granted, Telstra’s problems have not been as severe, but they’re embarking on a dangerous journey if this continues, especially if they market themselves as Australia’s premium brand.