(This is a developing story and additional details will emerge)
The major telcos in Australia have never had a particularly great reputation amongst customers and this is unlikely to change after today’s events.
The Optus network experienced a nationwide outage in the earlier hours of this morning around 4 am AEDT. Internet, mobiles phones, and landlines were all completely down, which sent businesses and services that heavily rely on the network into chaos.
The outage also affected other telecommunications providers using the same network, including Amaysim, CatchConnect, Coles Mobile and Dodo. Australians overseas using the Optus plans for international roaming were affected by the outage as well.
Further complicating the issue was that emergency calls were able to be made via mobile phone but not by landline, which was very difficult to communicate to customers amidst the outage. As the second largest telecommunications provider in Australia, Optus has 10.2 million customers and holds several major government contracts.
Because of the country’s reliance on the network, many major public services were affected by the outage. Metro Trains Melbourne uses the network as a part of its communication systems between trains and was unable to run services as normal for close to an hour after the outage begun.
While they were eventually able to begin operating again, there were widespread delays and over 500 cancelled services, which caused chaos for commuters trying to get to work. Many had to call rideshares services such as Uber, which caused a dramatic price surge that was eventually capped to prevent further furore.
Hospitals across Victoria and NSW, including most major hospitals in both Sydney and Melbourne were also affected by the outage. Prospective and current patients were unable to call the hospitals and vice versa. GP surgeries and outpatient clinics experienced similar communications difficulties.
Across the country, many telehealth appointments had to be either rescheduled or cancelled.
Ambulance services were able to receive and accept calls but they were unable to call anyone back for further information, which placed further strain on the healthcare system.
Many small businesses were unable to accept electronic payments from customers due to the outage. As a result, these businesses incurred major losses due to lack of income or cancelled deals as a result of the network failure. Affected small businesses, especially local hospitality businesses, had to close their doors for the day. Throughout all the chaos, it appears there has been small win for physical currency today.
Speaking to the ABC, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) CEO Andrew Williams urged these businesses to record their losses from the outage. The ACCAN advocates for telecommunications customers and Williams said that this would allow them to take action over the losses further down the line.
The outage is believed to have been caused by either a software or firmware update and not a cyberattack. At the time of writing, an official cause of the outage has not been released by Optus. Services gradually began restoration around 2 pm AEDT.
More to come.