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Telstra mobiles: another day, another outage

Telstra has set up a panel of industry experts, including technology partner Ericsson, to inquire into problems that have led to four mobile network outages in the last two months. 

A major outage occurred on 9 February, taking services out nationwide for 3 hours and again on17 March, when mobile services were down for about 4 hours, affecting about half of Telstra’s subscriber base ie about 8 million customers. 

More limited outages occurred on 18 March, preventing Telstra customers from accessing Amazon Web Service's Sydney data centre, and on 22 March, mostly affecting Victoria and Tasmania. 

A problem with recharging also affected Telstra’s pre-paid mobile customers in early March. 

While Telstra has said the initial causes of the two major outages differed, it has acknowledged that network congestion, as customers attempted to reconnect, was common to both, prolonging the impact of the initial network failure. 

Network redundancies have evidently failed to activate, leading industry experts to point to problems in Telstra’s core network, according to a recent report in The Australian.  The question being asked is whether Telstra’s investment is keeping pace with the demands now being made at this level. 

Telstra is not, of course, alone in experiencing such problems. A recent report suggests that, worldwide, mobile operators are spending $US20 billion a year on dealing with “network outages and service degradations”. 

Industry newsletter Communications Day quotes the report as arguing that the problem isn't just a function of the huge growth in mobile traffic volumes. 

“ It's also a function of the growing diversity and complexity of application types and their underlying service requirements, and the increasing interdependence of different application, service and infrastructure layers within the network.” 

And last but by no means least, there’s the question of skills and know-how in the operator’s workforce, which in the case of Telstra have been diluted by years of staff cuts and offshoring. 

As the CWU has pointed out in relation to these outages, staff numbers at Telstra’s Global Operations Centre, which plays a key role in network diagnostics, have declined by nearly 60% over the last 5 years. 

Telstra has rejected the suggestion that these trends bear any relation to its problems. The CWU begs to differ and believes that Telstra’s expert panel should be looking closely at the model that continues to result in diagnostic skills stripped out of the company.

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