Telstra’s Network Outages – Summary Of All Recent Outages

Telstra Outages in Australia - Summary

Telstra’s outage history is shown on this page

 

Examining Telstra’s Network Outages

Your expectations of having a signal, when you turn your phone on are probably very much like your expectations of turning on a tap and anticipating water. Perhaps they shouldn’t be. Australia is a huge country. Phone companys cover it with three networks (soon to be 4) and things do go wrong, from time to time. For us to expect flawless coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year might not be realistic.

Telstra’s has probably had more outages recently than any other network. Telstra has a lot of customers and they provide services to the government such as routing 000 calls. In total, Telstra supported around 16 million mobile customers at last count. that’s approximately as many as Vodafone and Optus provide service to, combined. Telstra’s significant customer base has been built, largely, on the power of their marketing which has bolstered the perceived strength of their network. Telstra have (perhaps more accurately, had) a huge amount of good will built up, in the collective consciousness of Australia, about the quality of their network coverage. The message is embodied in their brand. Their advertising slogans heralded a ‘network without equal.’

Unfortunately, it is precisely the high expectations that Telstra have set for themselves, and significant the customer numbers they have, which have amplified the outrage associated with their recent outages. When their network fails it affects an enormous number of people and, potentially, national productivity levels.

You can get all the latest statistics on Australian coverage for each of the major networks, 4G in our coverage page.

What do these Telstra outages mean to customers ?

  • Awareness :
    Primarily, these outages show people that Telstra is fallible. After years of carefully managing the perception of it’s network, the number of outages that Telstra has sustained, in such a short time has made a mark. Telstra has been cut and seen to bleed. These network outages are now part of the way we think about the company.
  • Free data days :
    To show goodwill to the customers which were affected by these outages, Telstra has, in the past, offered ‘free data days’. The feel among my friends and colleagues is that free data days are more about fun than anything else. Especially for the geek minded, finding a way to download as much as possible over the Telstra network when you’re not being charged is a sport. One individual downloaded 421 GB the last time they provided a free data day.
  • Lower levels of contracts & renewals :
    The biggest impact to Telstra is likely to be a loss of customers. This is especially true if the network outages keep occurring. Vodafone has launched offers specifically targeting Telstra customers who want to leave. The irony. This is probably more marketing than real life success but it’ll stick in the craw of the Telstra board.
  • Potential refunds for business customers :
    After so many outages, businesses have been complaining direct to Telstra. It’s always a tricky balance with network outages. Phone companies try and avoid being held responsible for downstream losses. If a business customer of Telstra lost business as a result of not being able to make or receive calls, Telstra would not want to be liable. Businesses are typically asked to apply individually for refunds in the days following a Telstra outage. Telstra have said each case will be considered on its own merits.

What happens if these Telstra outages continue ?

  • People are looking for it now :
    The industry, journalists, customers and competitors are all waiting for it to happen again. Somewhat like an individual who got caught speeding, then caught speeding again, Telstra are on their third warning.
  • Telstrafail ? :
    It s unimaginable that Telstra would experience the loss of reputation that Vodafone has. But then it was unimaginable to Vodafone before it happened. Could Telstra turn n to Telstrafail ?

Telstra’s 2018 Network Outages

Event Number1
DateJanuary 5th 2018
AffectedCustomers trying to call 000
ReasonTelstra claimed a lightning strike
Other NotesTelstra suffered a National 4G network outage in the afternoon.
The 3G network was not affected. Unfortunately, it happened on the same day they launched their new unlimited plans

Event Number2
DateMay 20th 2018
AffectedMelbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Hobart, Perth and Brisbane were all affected.
ReasonTelstra blamed a ‘software issue’ for the problem.
Other NotesTelstra suffered a full 3G and 4G network outage across most of the major city areas. Telstra tried to offload 000 calls to the Optus and Vodafone networks where possible but there were instances where it wasn’t.
Event Number3
DateJune 19th 2018
AffectedSydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart are all being affected by "intermittent service"
ReasonTelstra did not know the root cause of the problem.
Other NotesAffected some MVNOs on the Telstra network including Aldi and Boost. Telstra denied the outage affected their 3G and 4G networks.

 

Comment : 2 outages in a single month (May ’18) is not a good look for Telstra

The first May ’18 outage occurred on the same day the company released it’s Unlimited Plans. These issues occurred at a time when Telstra and Optus are in court, fighting over claims Optus made that it had the best network in Australia. (That issue is now resolved and Optus won one of May’s two legal battles with the company.) Telstra disputed the claims, for many, reasons, including that Optus do not have the same coverage footprint that they do.

Optus’ lawyers must be licking their lips about these outages. Optus has not suffered anything like the network problems or publicity associated with Telstra in recent years. Telstra’s share price is also currently as low as it has been in 7 years, as the company gets used to a more competitive environment and the imminent approach of TPG, who promise to launch phone plans in Australia, later in 2018, at price points as low as $10 per month for unlimited data.

On the 19th June, 2018, ironically, the day before Telstra’s biggest ever announcement concerning job cuts (they proposed eliminating 8,000 middle management jobs and radically overhauling their product suite at a shareholder meeting) Telstra’s MVNO network suffered some intermittent outages. The issue was limited only to companies which resell **parts of** the Telstra network including Boost and ALDI. The story hardly made the press.

Telstra’s 2017 Network Outages

The last major outage Telstra suffered, was in 2017. It occurred after a fire that broke out in the Telstra ‘exchange’ (a bit of their network which directs calls) at Brunswick in Melbourne. The outage was caused by faulty wiring. That time, affected customers were given data free days (see above) as compensation.

Will Telstra’s Network Outages Impact their Market Share?

The simple answer is yes, for a number of reasons, including their network outages, Telstra is likely to lose market share in the near future.

No-contract or SIM Only plan agreements have been one of the biggest rising trends over the last two years. People seem to have reached the obvious conclusion, that they don’t want to be bound by a contract. They want to have the facility to change providers to whoever is doing a great deal at the time. Telstra are smart, however, and are doing as much as they can to prevent this. According to Kantar (one of Australia’s leading independent research houses, “Australian consumers are becoming increasingly exposed to the benefits of SIM-only tariffs, which offer 4G connections, rollover data, no lock-ins, and a generous amount of data, to name a few, for a comparatively low cost.

  • National WiFi:
    Telstra have done more than anyone else to roll out national free WiFi. They have followed a scheme that has worked in Europe and re-purposed their national network of phone booths to emit a wifi signal. They delivered the project in less than a year. That’s lightspeed for a telco.
  • Spent $7 in marketing to every $1 Vodafone spent :
    Telstra’s budgets are renowned for being huge in the industry. Over the years, Telstra pent $billions on marketing, telling us how great their network is. They’ve emphasized coverage and speed, separately, at different times. They’ve even gone to court to fight tangential references by competitors which hinted at that their network was ‘better’ than Telstra. Specifically, they sued Optus and won, for suggesting with a map on an advert that Optus’ coverage was nearly as broad as Telstra’s. It’s not. Telstra won.
  • They have invested in their stadium coverage :
    More recently, Telstra have been making investments in their stadium and event network coverage. They insert mobile cells near occasions which will attract a lot of people. As a result, Telstra’s coverage is often substantially better than alternatives.

Customer service, pricing, the way phone companies deal with damaged or faulty phones : these things often get ignored. The primary thing people want from their phone company is coverage they can rely on. That’s why, over the last decade, strategically, Telstra’s network focus, messaging and strategy has been the best in the industry.

Subscribers Switch to a Different Company when a network is unreliable

According to, Sandra Rossi at Computerworld :

“The number one reason for switching is price followed by service problems…”

So, Telstra might have a problem. On average their pricing is up to 40% higher than the competition. And now, with these outages, people are questioning the network service they get.

Siilar news was made it in to The Sydney Morning Herald, which reported on May 22 2016, “Analysts believe the impact the outages will have on Telstra’s customer numbers, though noting Telstra’s problems are still below those experienced by Vodafone in 2010 and 2011 when over 20 per cent of customers jumped ship…

“Deutsche Bank analysts have previously said they expect Telstra’s “customer churn” (the number of customers exiting the service) could increase slightly as a result of the [current] outages.”

At the end of last year, Telstra had a complaint ratio of 6.4/10,000 SIO ( Services in operation, an industry term for the number of customers they have ). Optus had the highest rating of 7.9/10,000 SIO. However, in the first quarter of 2016, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman said Telstra’s complaint index is low, despite well publicized outages prior to May.

Previous Telstra Network Outages in early 2016

Here is a quick recap on the most significant events in Telsra’s network in the first quarter of 2016.

Event Number1
DateFebruary 9th
Customers Affected16.7m
ReasonHuman Error
Other Notes- Senior management blamed a single individual for the outage
- Customers were sympathetic to the first event
- Telstra turned the situation around offering free data to customers over the weekend. (Although this did not satisfy many businesses affected by the outage who didn't work over the weekend.)
- Subsequent news stories were positive - highlighting how well Telstra had done to manage huge volumes of data over the free weekend.
Event Number2
DateMarch 17th
Customers Affected16.7m
ReasonNetwork registration issue (too many phones connected at once.)
Other Notes- Most customers' issues were fixed in 4 hours, some in as little as 90 minutes
- Telstra offered a second free data day: April 3, 2016
- Some users say 'to little too late'
Event Number3
DateMarch 22nd
Customers AffectedApprox 500k
ReasonHardware failure (Media Gateway / Node)
Other Notes- Victoria and Tazmania the most affected. "with some impact elsewhere"
- Not a national issue but reported as one. Initially described as fixed but then customers kept complaining.

 

Finally, Telstra Outages Raise Security Concerns

Details of each Telstra Outage are shown below.

Telstra’s outage history is shown in table format below.

Telstra has had to close down its texting service temporarily due to text messages going to random numbers after the network underwent a meltdown that affected virtually every part of the country in one way or another. A Perth charity for at-risk youth was particularly concerned as it had workers out in the field who they were unable to make contact with. Businesses lurched to a grinding halt, train lines in NSW ceased to work and Jetstar experienced problems with its booking service delaying flights as passengers had to be processed manually.

This massive outage was as a result of a fire in the Chatswood exchange in Sydney. The forced closure of the text messaging service came about when people began to receive text messages from people they did not know. According to the CEO, Andrew Penn, all they could do to ensure the privacy of customers was to close messaging until the situation had been resolved. Because it happened at a major exchange the effect was particularly widespread. It took more than a couple of hours until things were back to normal.

Social media was soon chattering and twittering about the outage

Surprised phone users who received unexpected text messages were soon out chatting about it on social media.

  • One twitterer said he received text messages about a secret business deal which he could have revealed to all if he had the inclination to do so.
  • An Optus/ Virgin customer claimed he was getting texts from Telstra that weren’t meant for him.

Many services, such as banks, provide private information through SMS messaging like links for re-setting passwords and even new pin numbers. The extent of the text messaging blunder was never fully revealed.

All in all, 2016 was not a good year for Telstra!

The company not only experienced a number of outages, but by mid November 2016 its share price had fallen by 29% with shareholders seeking an explanation and a change in strategy. This performance caused Standard & Poor to reduce its outlook for Telstra from that of being “stable” to “negative”. Telstra has the lion’s share of all parts of Australia’s telecommunication industry and, in some regional areas, it has sole control. The federal government in December 2016 suggested the prospect of domestic roaming, meaning Telstra would have to share its mobile infrastructure with other carriers. This was not greeted favourably by Telstra and as yet no final decision has been made.

February wasn’t a good month for Telstra, either, with a serious outage to handle and a drop in revenue of 3.5 percent. This was accompanied by a fall in after tax net profit of more than 14 percent which caused a share price fall of 4.5 percent that same day.

 

Summing up Telstra’s Network Malaise

It is incredibly hard to accurately predict network usage for a phone company. Bigger screens on phones, the downloading of more video, the constant pervading of digital in to our lives are all factors in the exponential increase of traffic. On the other hand, this is what they do. Network planning and forecasting are at the core of everything phone companies are responsible for. Most outages are relatively minor and go unnoticed, at least to the media. That’s rarely the case with Telstra. All things considered, it seems fair to say that there is a risk that Telstra will suffer losses from the network outages it has seen. It’s hard to justify an often 40% price hike for a Telstra plan, if the signal drops out ‘regularly.’

Of course, all of this is based on the outages we have seen so far. What we don’t know is what happens next. Every time Telstra’s network nightmare continues, with every new outage, the risk of an exodus increases. We don’t yet know if we’ve seen the last of it. Telstra doesn’t have a monopoly over communications, which gives the chance for customers to change providers and a considerable proportion of people (now more than 70%) are on non contract SIM Only plans.

What choices you have around the network you can choose, depends on exactly where you live. Where Telstra has the major share in money from the government’s black-spot program, customers often find themselves with limited choice.

One swallow does not make a summer. Neither does two. Or even three. The same is true for network outages. Telstra publicly dropped the ball on network three times in the first few months of 2016 and have repeated the feet many times since. They had to issue multiple press releases which include the word ‘embarrassing’ and that’s not good, clearly.

The major problem here is probably customer expectations. Whichever company you go to for your network services is going to get it wrong sometimes. Every system is fallible and while national redundancy is possible, the resulting cost of network services would probably be cost prohibitive for most users.

People are generally reasonable. When there is a failure, they want to know how the network will fix it. Customers were ‘sympathetic’ to the first error. They made the most of their free data day. In this case, the Telstra PR team, brilliantly in my estimation, turned the situation around. The news reported the strength of Telstra’s network in dealing with the huge data volumes over the free weekend they offered. Behind the scenes on the first outage, things were far less pleasant. Blaming an individual for a failure like the first one ( as Telstra publically did ) shows terrible leadership and a lack of ownership for the fact that a single person should not be able to cause this sort of mistake. It could be indicative of a flawed culture of fear and cover ups which would accentuate rather than explain these issues.

Perhaps most important, as the number of outages rises, is the loss of brand and reputation. Telstra are being made more accountable in a world of real time social media for their mistakes. Their own levels of marketing spend and network messaging mean they’re held to a higher standard and perhaps that’s appropriate.

People are now waiting for it to go wrong again. Big T has used a lot of the good will it had with customers around network, up. This could be a real cost to Telstra. Will people continue to pay more for better in building coverage and signal in the bush when the brand has been tarnished like this ?

Ultimately, this many outages in such a short time has to blemish a reputation. Especially a reputation as previously sterling as Telstra’s. A rational view of competing networks would tell most people they’d be fine on Vodafone or Optus. But there has to be a trigger to get people to move – to offset the complacency associated with people buying from Telstra.

Optus stand to win the most. Optus is already, actually, spending more on it’s network to lessen the gap in terms of square Kms covered and the proportion of Australia’s population they reach. Vodafone isn’t. It’s focusing on in city coverage and it’s doing well. Independent research shows Vodafone offer the best network in cities.

Most Australians get their information on national network coverage not from websites like this one but from their friends and partners around BBQs and other informal social events. Telstra have put themselves on a pedestal and, even now, have fallen a long way. When the weekend scuttlebutt about network begins with complaints from Telstra users engorged by Social Media, perhaps, beyond reason ( in the case of the third event which does not appear to have been a big deal ), it’s far more influential than $billion marketing campaigns telling us everything is OK.

 

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.