Network outages 'normal': Optus

Network outages 'normal': Optus

Summary: Optus this week claimed the 3G mobile outages it had been suffering were normal and every telecommunications carrier would be having similar issues.

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Optus this week claimed the 3G mobile outages it had been suffering were normal and every telecommunications carrier would be having similar issues.

Andrew Buay
(Credit: Optus)

"There have been a few incidents — which is actually quite normal for any operator and any vendor — that the new software loads under some conditions or locations don't behave the way you expect them to, despite having done very extensive testing before you bring them into the network," Andrew Buay, Optus managing director of products and delivery told ZDNet.com.au this week.

"It's quite normal," he added.

He said there had been a lot of negative media recently on whether Optus had a reliable wireless broadband network and the level of congestion on the network, but he believed that the media had fed on itself, making a big issue out of something every carrier experienced.

"I suppose mainly because we have been in the limelight, every little thing that does happen gets a lot more visibility, but you know it does happen with every operator and network in various sizes and frequencies," he said.

The attention started in July with a cable cut by non-Optus contractors that resulted in Optus customers in Queensland having phone and internet services go down. There was a considerable amount of backlash, especially from business customers and the government, although Buay did not place this outage in the same box as those which were to follow because the catalyst for the event had been an external source.

With the public eye already on Optus, the carrier experienced a series of glitches in August which affected 3G data in Melbourne, NSW, the ACT and Queensland as well as voice services in parts of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, due to software upgrade issues. Experts from the carrier's network vendor, Nokia Siemens Networks, were called in from Finland to help assess the situation.

Meanwhile, the iPhone which had come into stores in July and which Optus had sold a "disproportionate" number of times according to Buay, was causing complaints of its own. Optus was named as having the slowest speeds for the iPhone worldwide in a Wired survey, sparking long discussions on the carrier's iPhone performance on online forums.

Amongst these whispers of congestion over the network, Optus also experienced a 3G data outage in North Sydney and St Leonards.

To add fuel to speculation of Optus' network woes, at the start of this month, the carrier reduced the amount of data customers could download on their prepaid wireless broadband plans. This had followed the carrier's announcement that it was suspending sales of its Wireless Fusion product to "ensure we deliver an optimum experience to our customers using the product". Rumours ran wild that the network was overloaded.

The carrier then experienced problems with porting, as customers trying to move numbers to and from the carrier found their accounts stranded for days.

Last week 3G services were also disrupted at one base station following a capacity upgrade on the Optus/Vodafone 3G network at Bilgola.

Buay acknowledged the spate of incidents, which have not all been included in this list, and divided the concerns into congestion worries and outages.

He said considering Optus' aggressive expansion of its 3G network from covering 60 per cent of the population to 98 per cent of the population, and the upgrades that required, it was normal for some problems to occur.

Buay would not go into details on what the Finnish experts from Nokia Siemens Network had found when they arrived to help with the outage spanning the eastern side of the country, saying only it was like a normal "audit" of Optus' processes such as load testing before implementing upgrades to the network.

"You can go into the nth level of detail on this sort of technical issue, but our commitment is to build a robust, reliable network," he said.

As for congestion, he said it was a problem all carriers had to face.

"Because we have had very good take-up of the wireless broadband it's very typical that in certain locations during certain times of the day, you would have a bit heavier usage loading on the network," he said. "That's quite typical and as an operator, we proactively take actions to upgrade the network elements [such as backhaul]."

"Typically at any time the operator may have 3 to 5 per cent of their sites which have some level of congestion," he added.

I suppose mainly because we have been in the limelight every little thing that does happen gets a lot more visibility

Optus' Andrew Buay

He didn't believe any congestion problems could be blamed on the number of iPhone units the carrier had sold. "The number of subscribers and their usage profile in the scheme of our 7 million subscriber base is not an issue which has impacted our network," he said.

"As to whether the iPhone experience was because of the Optus network, I think you are aware that when iPhone first launched they had issues with their antenna and the operating system and it impacted all 2,100MHz networks globally, it wasn't just Optus individually," he said.

Ovum analyst Nathan Burley said there was some truth in the carrier's belief that the media hype had given it a worse report card than it deserved, but he said that there were problems. "There seem to be some issues, especially in the area of backhaul," he said.

He said Optus was seeing the consequences of entering the 3G game late and playing catch up. Telstra had the advantage of moving early, Burley said, which gave it the time to iron out its issues, while Optus as the latecomer has had to grin and bear it. "There's no doubt that they were late to the 3G game and that's cost them," he said.

As for the iPhone, Burley agreed with Buay on one point. "They are correct that a lot of the problems Optus had were replicated across the globe." However, Optus didn't get off scot-free in his opinion. "There's no doubt also that some of the issues were tied to the Optus network," he said.

Whether the underlying problems were to be expected or abnormally bad, Burley believed Optus' media persona has taken a vicious beating. "I just think this has been a PR disaster," he said.

Topics: Telcos, Apple, iPhone, Mobility, Networking, Outage, Optus, Telstra

Suzanne Tindal

About Suzanne Tindal

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for the site.

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Talkback

51 comments
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  • Normal?

    Depends on how low the bar has been set...in OPTUS case it looks you get what you pay for!!

    Cheap service and a cheap network!!
    anonymous
  • Normal

    It's normal to be in Melbourne CBD, Windsor or East Melbourne at various times of day and night and have your phone say "No Service"?

    Forget the 3G, Optus can't even provide 2G. Same locations, same phone, Voda SIM card - 5 bars every time.

    I switched to Optus after over 10 trouble-free years with Voda when the iPhone was released because of the pricing. Thankfully I only got a 12 month contract, because I'll be going back to Voda as soon as it's finished.
    anonymous
  • Bollocks

    Four years with 3 and fantastic connection and speed of the 3G. Two months with Optus and I have lost count of all the places around my inner city home where I have NO SERVICE or 2G...in the CBD. This PR spin crap won't fly. Customers aren't stupid these days. We know.
    anonymous
  • Normal ... for Optus

    I'm in a similar situation to Richard. Bad connectivity, and slow speeds when connected. I get much better speeds on Three, and much better connectivity on Vodafone. Optus has really got to shape up, or come contract-expiration time, they will lose lots of mobile activations.

    My theory is that it's all the Virgin Broadband customers using up the available bandwidth.
    anonymous
  • Normal, lift your game Optus.

    Optus you are not reaching for the stars are you. This is not the way to treat customers.
    anonymous
  • THE WORST

    Worst network in Australia. For Voice, Data and Wireless services.
    anonymous
  • Vigin network down all over the place today

    See http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=963376&p=-1#bottom

    Is this just another Optus symptom? Oh, I'm sorry, this is "normal".
    anonymous
  • Contractor

    It is normal if you dont have enough bandwidth going to the towers and the towers dont support enought cocurrent users connecting as are trying to connecting.

    Also as a excontractor i know people use that excuse a lot
    anonymous
  • Optus Suck

    Optus deserves all the bad media it can get. Nothing but issues all the time.
    anonymous
  • Build a dump and live with the rats

    Optus opted for the cheap network and we all see what happens. I work for the big bad T and a few days ago a core component of their Next G service failed, what is known as a severity 1 and as bad as you can get. Not one single active phone call was dropped and the only affected people were those trying to dial at that exact moment but when they redialed immediately after the failed connection they would have gotten through. Now that is how you design a network!
    anonymous
  • what to expect from terria

    say hello to terria. my they are *affordable* aren't they. haha.
    anonymous
  • Suuthern Brisbane Bad Lands

    South of the Brisbane River the Optus network, quite simply, doesn't work. At home, in Eight Mile Plains I get no 3G at all on my iPhone, yet the Virgin coverage map indicates I should have reception. But try telling Virgin that ... "We only need to provide GSM reception by law, blah, blah blah". On the South East Busway, parallel to the M3, one of the busiest roads in Australia, there is a daily consistent dead-zone with "No Service" between Woolloongabba and Grithith Uni.
    anonymous
  • Hahaha, Normal???

    So tell me, if these outages are normal, how come they only ever seem to affect Optus?
    anonymous
  • Don't take it anymore.

    All those effected by unsatisfactory service from Optus should call relevant Government Departments for immediate action for legal sanctions to be implemented for false advertising and failing to provide the advertised service.
    anonymous
  • No one can afford to use it

    It probably impacted no customers because no customers can afford to use the service with the bs rates Telstra charge.
    anonymous
  • How are those shares going?

    But if you're ever unsatisfied with the service being provided by Telstra please don't complain to the Government Departments for action.. isn't that right Sydney?
    anonymous
  • Congestion

    I constantly get 500-1000ms ping time to or from my optus iphone.

    I have had better service in 3rd world countries
    anonymous
  • normal what next

    if optus cann't keep there network running. what will happen if they get the nbn contract ?
    anonymous
  • Almost all new connections for Telstra are Next G

    and they hold around 55% of the market share. I don't think that would be the case if as that troll calls it Telstra charge bs rates
    anonymous
  • Chalk and cheese.

    Anonymous please be advised that in the unlikely event that the Telstra superior equipment degrade to the pathetic and shabby levels of Optus I would be the first to suggest sanctions.
    anonymous