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Monday, 13 June 2016 01:00

As Telstra outages are unavoidable, what’s your only backup plan options? Featured

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Outages. When they’re expected, they’re annoying; when they’re unexpected, even more so, so what’s a good backup plan?

As I’ve noted in the past, outages happen. They could happen for any number of reasons, but they generally don’t end up affecting tens or hundreds of thousands or even millions of people.

Telstra’s latest outage has either come as a fresh shock to users, or is no shock at all seeing as there see to have been so many outages already – what’s yet another?

For consumers and businesses requiring Internet at all times, Telstra’s outages have provided a stark lesson: whether you’re a Telstra customer or not, your ISP or telco will one day have an outage, and you’d better have a backup.

Can Telstra’s outages be stopped?

The short answer is no. No telco can ever promise a perfect, never-fail system. Of course, Telstra and other carriers can pump in a lot more money to continue modernising systems and installation whatever backup and failover systems are required to try guaranteeing as minimal an amount of downtime as possible.

But just as it's impossible to guarantee you will never catch the common cold, or the flu, so too is it impossible to guarantee your ISP or telco will never go down.

All you can do is to prepare for the eventuality that it will happen, even though that will cost you more money to do so.

Having a wired backup service

Will that backup be the services of another wired provider, on a different line, be it a second phone line, or a cable connection?

This option goes out the window for most once you get the NBN, you will only have one NBN connection in your house and that’s it. If it does go down, you’ll need a wireless alternative.

At least in the days before the NBN, you could have two or more phone lines connected to different ISPs, or a copper line and a HFC cable connection for redundancy, if you were happy to pay for two connections per month.

Few families would be willing to pay for two connections, but a small to medium business could more easily afford to have more than one connection in place.

More below – please read on!

Using 3G or 4G wireless data as a wired data alternative

Will it be via a wireless connection, be it one of the wireless telcos or MVNOs offering 4G services, or the fixed wireless services of Vivid Wireless, which offers 4G connectivity on the Optus 2300MHz network in most capital cities, with a 10/1 connection at $89 per month unlimited?

Of course, you can get data via a satellite connection too, but it’s only something people in rural and regional areas would normally do.

There are handsets that let you access satellite-delivered data from wherever you are, but I can’t see that option being terribly affordable for the everyday user.

For many people, the only affordable kind of backup will be a 4G hotspot from one of the major telcos, with the hotspot best purchased from a different telco to the one you normally use.

You can get pre-paid hotspots so you aren’t paying a monthly fee for data you aren’t using.

Kogan Mobile, for example, offers a 4G data-only SIM with 2GB of downloads for $15 per month.

You can get 9GB of data on a voice and data 4G SIM from Amaysim for $49.90 per 28 days, with unlimited voice and text.

Vodafone offers 10GB per month for $60 per month on its no-contract "month to month plans", with unlimited voice and text, and with data amounts that go higher and lower depending on the plan you’re on, and whether you’re on a contract, or not.

Telstra and Optus have deals too – get 6GB per month on the Optus $40 pre-paid plan, with unlimited voice and text, or 3GB for $30 with the same unlimited talk and text, and data rollover.

Even Telstra offers a $30 SIM with 1.5GB of data for use anytime, and another 1.5GB of data that can be used between 8pm and 8am.

Need a lot more data than these lower cost plans?

Telstra also offers a 25GB plan at approximately $150 per month.

Vodafone has a 25GB SIM for $90 per month as does Optus.

And let’s not forget that VividWireless has, in its capital city coverage areas only, a 10GB plan for $29 per month, 40GB for $59 and an "unlimited plan" for $89, that comes with its own modem (which plugs into your wall power socket) – which you can get on a month-to-month basis or on 12- or 24-month plans.

However, all of these other plans will require you to get a spare phone to turn into a personal hotspot, or plugged into a Wi-Fi hotspot, whether unlocked, or if locked to a carrier, then used with a SIM from that carrier.

You can, of course, also just use the data with your existing phone plan, and connect that to your computer or tablet, whether wired or wirelessly with most computers and wirelessly with most tablets.

That chews through your existing smartphone allocation, rather than a separate hotspot which doesn’t touch your smartphone data, but then it doesn’t cost anything extra,

Well, it doesn’t if you don’t blow through your smartphone data allocation, which on most plans means an additional $10 per gigabyte.

So having a backup is easy, and relatively speaking, affordable enough.

Still, those smaller plans might not be enough for most businesses, who will be looking at those 25GB plans on offer, or who will be considering a second wired connection from a different service provider to have on hand just in case of yet another telco meltdown.

So… with yet more outages from all the telcos and ISPs guaranteed to happen at some point, all you can do is to be prepared, so that if your telco goes down, it doesn’t completely disconnect you from the Internet.

Many people have had to find this out the hard way for themselves when their telco of choice has had an outage lasting hours, days or longer.

Still, if you weren’t aware of the alternatives out there, it is possible to get 2GB of 4G data for $15 per month, or on Kogan Mobile a $16.95 plan with unlimited voice and text and 1GB of data, which even the tightest budgets should theoretically be able to stretch to activating with a spare SIM on hand in the event an outage occurs.

So, annoying as it clearly is, outages are a fact of life, and it may well be that we will experience more outages than we’ve ever experienced before in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

All you can do to protect yourself (besides using your own phone’s data in personal hotspot mode) is to have an alternate or backup means of getting connected, so get your self an unactivated, spare SIM now and have a charged, backup phone to use as a hotspot for the day you need it.

Or be prepared to find out which local cafes, shopping malls, fast food restaurants or other areas are offering free Wi-Fi, and just hope there’s enough connectivity for everyone to use when you get there!


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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