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Telstra invests AU$50m in network following outages

Telstra will invest AU$25 million into network monitoring, and AU$25 million into improving network recovery time during outages.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Telstra has announced the conclusion of its network review following its three major outages earlier this year, committing an additional AU$50 million to improving the monitoring and recovery times of its network.

The telecommunications provider's chief operating officer Kate McKenzie said the review involved both internal and external specialists.

"The review included our own specialist teams, global experts from Ericsson, Juniper, and Cisco, and an independent adviser, Dave Williams from Tech Mahindra, to help us ensure we left no stone unturned," McKenzie said during Telstra's Investor Day 2016 presentation.

"We have already implemented a number of the recommendations, and we have allocated an additional AU$50 million to implement some key initiatives delivering us cutting-edge tools in network traffic monitoring, as well as setting an even higher standard for recovery than what we observe in other networks globally.

"This will assist with monitoring, as well as set a higher standard in recovery for our network, than what we observe in the networks of other similar telecommunications providers globally."

Of this AU$50 million, AU$25 million will be spent on installing monitoring equipment and tools for improved real-time traffic monitoring, while the other half will go towards improving network recovery time.

Telstra got another chance on Monday morning to rehearse its network recovery time as yet another outage hit its ADSL network in Queensland thanks to a minor fault in a piece of hardware, which Telstra said was repaired within 30 minutes.

According to McKenzie, Telstra's mobile network now carries 50 percent more data than it did a year ago, meaning it is under far greater strain. As a result of the network review, Telstra has implemented various measures to deal with this and prevent future issues.

"We have increased the number of redundant links on the nodes which were involved in the 9 February disruption, and we have added new software features that limit the number of customers who would be required to re-register," McKenzie explained.

"We have also added more capacity to the core network, as well as introducing additional checks and balances to key network element restarts.

"In addition, we now have more resilience in our international connectivity, and we have added another redundant link from Perth to Sydney.

"We have also made other network changes to reduce the impact of international IP traffic on domestic IP traffic that addresses the root cause of the 17 March incident."

Telstra customers were subjected to three outages over a period of six weeks: The first on February 22, which affected prepaid and post-paid mobile services and was caused by "embarrassing human error"; the second on March 17, which involved an hours-long national mobile data and voice outage; and the third on March 22, which was a smaller voice outage.

During an update of the network review last month, McKenzie described the cause of each outage, revealing the second outage was caused by a large number of people all trying to reconnect at the same time to the network.

"Essentially, when a disruption occurs, mobile users need to be re-registered or reconnected back onto the network. When large numbers of mobiles are trying to reconnect at the same time, there can be a delay in people being able to access the network," the COO added on Monday.

"This is a common challenge for networks around the world -- to ensure there is enough capacity in the network so that those reconnections take as little time as possible."

There was no overloading of the network itself; it was simply capacity in reconnecting to the network simultaneously, CEO Andrew Penn stressed.

"As a result, we are investing an additional AU$25 million, increasing our capacity to handle a large number of re-registrations occurring simultaneously," McKenzie said.

"What this means is that in the event of a disconnection, a much larger number of customers will be able to re-register at the same time so any disruption to services will be of a much shorter duration."

Off the back of its network outages, the Australian Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) last week revealed that Telstra complaints increased during the quarter to March by 30.6 percent quarter on quarter, up to 6.4 complaints per 10,000 services in operation.

In spite of this, however, Telstra has actually improved its market share, with 41.1 percent of total mobile market share, according to Kantar, up from the 39.7 percent recorded last year.

In prepaid, it holds 41.7 percent of the market, up 4.1 percentage points year on year; in post-paid, it holds 43.6 percent, up 1.2 percentage points; and in no contract, it holds 30.1 percent, down 1 percentage point.

Penn said during Investor Day on Monday that the telco's 4G coverage will reach 98 percent as of June 30 this year, and 99 percent by June 30, 2017, while its Telstra Air customers now number 650,000, with more than 300,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the country.

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