Home Telecoms & NBN Telstra’s ‘embarrassing’ #Telstra outage

Telstra’s ‘embarrassing’ #Telstra outage

Telstra had its ‘annus horribilis’ all in one-day yesterday when human error caused massive disruption to mobile phone voice and data users Australia-wide.

Commencing at around 12.40pm on Tuesday 9 February it was all over around eight hours later - but not before millions of tweets and thousands of media reports castigated Telstra for the outage. How dare our national, albeit expensive, premium treasure let us down? iTWire’s timeline of events is here.

The outage affected 2/3/4G voice and data services – a major complaint was loss of online navigation and services, ‘Back to the Melways (a.k.a. street directory, USB, Gregory’s)’, Tweeted one user. Another complained bitterly they could not find their friends on Facebook to meet for a coffee. Yet another could not access a boarding pass.

Thousands of vending machines and EFTPOS machines stood idle, unable to call home. M2M, a provider of mobile machine to machine SIMS commented that many of these machines would need a reboot to get them functioning again and that was really costly. And that is the real point – business and consumer alike take mobility as a god given right instead of a privilege.

That this could happen to a premium provider says two things. First, that the underlying technology is not bullet proof and second, it could happen to other ‘lesser’ providers too. Any mobile client or server side solution must have backup – otherwise it is akin to the good old days “When the electricity goes out we all go home!’

Telstra's chief operations officer Kate McKenzie said the outage was an "embarrassing human error".

She said the major disturbance was caused by a "node malfunction". Her open letter is here.

"Normally it would not have been an issue, but because of human error this outage was caused. Ten nodes across the company enable us to be able to manage traffic and connections for voice and data around the whole country. Normally we could take down three or four of those nodes but on this occasion the correct procedure was not followed. The outage was triggered when one of these nodes experienced a technical fault and was taken offline to fix."

This resulted in widespread disconnections and heavy congestion on the remaining nodes and affected most major cities and many regions.

Telstra said it prioritised voice services during repairs, then started to add data services. Most tweets died down around 9pm (AEST) last night.


S^*t happens but we the people, do not expect that of Telstra. While the Twittersphere was initially used to alert Telstra of outages and to inject some humour into the situation it became increasingly frantic over the ensuring hours as our addiction to mobile phones and associated withdrawals kicked in.

Personally I think waiting for several hours for Telstra to claim it was an embarrassing mistake lacked the PR savvy this company is so famous for. All the world wanted to know is “Who, what, when, where and why” so it could live vicariously through this experience and perhaps even feel sorry for Telstra – “Some stupid bugger has flicked the wrong switch – sack him/her’.

So it is all back to normal now and presumably Telstra has procedures in place to avoid this in the future.

In compensation for the loss of what amounts to a maximum of 8 hours’ amenity Telstra customers will receive free data on Sunday 14 February where hopefully their voracious appetite will not expose any further weakness in the network.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!