Optus, one of Australia’s largest telecommunications companies, experienced a major network outage on Wednesday, November 8, 2023, affecting millions of customers and services across the country. The outage started around 4am AEDT and lasted for several hours, disrupting internet, mobile and landline connections, as well as emergency calls, transport systems, hospitals and businesses.
Optus said it was aware of the issue and working urgently to restore services as quickly as possible. However, the company did not provide any clear explanation for the cause of the problem, nor an estimated time for resolution. Optus chief executive Kelly Bayer Rosmarin said engineers had tested a number of hypotheses, but none had resulted in fixing the issue. She also said there was no indication that the outage was a result of a cyber attack, and that a software issue was also highly unlikely.
How did it affect people?
The Optus outage had a significant impact on people’s lives and livelihoods, as many relied on the network for communication, work, education, entertainment and essential services. Some of the effects of the outage included:
- Emergency calls: Some Optus customers reported that they were unable to call triple zero or access other emergency services. The federal communications minister, Michelle Rowland, said a protocol was in place to allow Optus customers to “camp” on other mobile networks when needing to call 000. However, Victoria’s health minister, Mary-Anne Thomas, urged people not to use Optus-linked phones to call triple zero, as some calls were not getting through.
- Transport systems: The outage caused major service disruptions and delays across the Melbourne train network, as the control centre could not communicate with trains on the network for an hour. Metro Trains said the services resumed around 7am, but commuters faced significant delays as trains got back on schedule. The outage also affected some traffic lights, bus services and airport operations.
- Hospitals: The outage affected phone lines at hospitals across the country, making it difficult for patients and their families to contact each other or the medical staff. Some hospitals also reported issues with their internal systems, such as patient records, test results and medication orders. The outage also affected Victoria’s Virtual Emergency Departments, which provide online consultations for people with urgent but not life-threatening conditions.
- Businesses: Many businesses suffered losses and inconvenience due to the outage, as they could not process payments, access online platforms, communicate with customers or suppliers, or operate normally. Some businesses had to close down for the day or resort to cash-only transactions. Rowland advised small businesses to keep receipts as an evidentiary base for recourse and redress.
- Customers: Millions of Optus customers were frustrated and angry about the outage, as they could not use their phones, internet or landline services for personal or professional purposes. Some customers said they missed important appointments, meetings, exams, interviews or deadlines because of the outage. Others said they felt isolated, anxious or unsafe without access to communication or information. Many customers complained about the lack of communication and transparency from Optus, and demanded compensation or refunds.
What are the next steps?
Optus said it was working hard to restore services as soon as possible, and apologised sincerely to its customers for the inconvenience and disruption. The company said it would provide updates on its website and social media channels, and advised customers to check these sources for the latest information. Optus also said it would review the incident and take steps to prevent it from happening again.
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman said it could help Optus customers with refunds for the time they were unable to use their service, compensation claims and disputes about their contract. The ombudsman said customers should first contact Optus to try to resolve the issue, and then lodge a complaint with the ombudsman if they were not satisfied with the outcome.
Rowland said she had spoken to Rosmarin and asked her to keep the government and the public informed about the situation. She said she expected Optus to be transparent and accountable for the outage, and to provide appropriate remedies to its customers and stakeholders. She also said the government would monitor the situation and ensure that the network was secure and reliable.