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'Embarrassing human error' knocks out Telstra mobile data and calls nation-wide

Telstra customers were left unable to access mobile data or make calls after "human error" knocked out a call-switching node on the telco's network, causing a ripple effect across the country.

An outage map from Aussie Outages shows network problems across the country.
Aussie Outages

Telstra mobile customers across the country have faced a major outage today after a node failure knocked out voice and data for customers network-wide. But while Telstra's network is designed to cope with problems in its infrastructure, the telco says an "embarrassing human error" was to blame for the fault.

Shortly after lunchtime Tuesday, the telco's service status page was turned into a wall of red with listings of "current interruptions", warning that 3G and 4G mobile customers "may experience difficulties making or receiving voice calls or using data services in this area." The service area for interruptions was listed as "National".

In a statement, a Telstra spokesperson said, "We are aware of an issue currently affecting voice and data nationally. We are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible and thank customers for their patience."

By 4:30 p.m., Telstra advised that outage was caused when one of its "major mobile nodes went down."

"The network is configured to manage this, however, in this instance we had issues transferring customers to other nodes which caused congestion on the network for some customers," the company said in a statement. "Services have now been restored with the vast majority of our customers now back online."

The nodes form part of the essential infrastructure that underpins Telstra's telecommunications network across the country. And while there are redundancies to protect against failure, today's outage in just one of these nodes affected huge sections of the national network.


Telstra's service status page was a wall of red during the peak of the outage.

Screenshot by Claire Reilly/CNET

So what caused the node problem that stopped customers from making calls and using data? Telstra's chief operating officer Kate McKenzie shed more light on the situation in an afternoon press conference.

"This is an embarrassing human error," she said.

"Normally we could take down 3 or 4 of those nodes, do work on them, fix them up and it would have no impact. But unfortunately in this case the correct procedure was not followed."

By the time McKenzie faced media, Telstra had already been hit hard in social media circles. What started as a low rumble of complaints around midday quickly turned into a full storm as Telstra customers voice their displeasure on Twitter and Facebook, complaining of no data and phones that were locked down to "SOS" mode.

In amongst the "Not happy!!!" comments on Telstra's Facebook page, one user Tim Jarvis complained of "no business phone or Eftpos working" while another, Audi Scott, complained that "Telstra has blocked other carriers from calling."

"This is ridiculously poor! Not paying my bill this month," said Facebook user Noah Albanese, echoing the calls of many for compensation on their bills after an hour of network outage.

Others raised concerns about not being able to make emergency phone calls. According to ACMA, Telstra is responsible for answering calls to Triple Zero and transferring them to the relevant emergency service organisation.

But even in SOS mode, Australians can use their mobile to dial 112 -- a GSM international standard emergency number which can only be dialled from a digital mobile phone.

Today's outage wasn't grim news for everyone. In typical form, Ruslan Kogan was quick to jump on Twitter and assure any doubtful customers that "Kogan Mobile is firing on all cylinders and currently has a 70% Off promo."

Can't blame a guy for trying.

Update, 4.45 p.m. AEDT: Included further detail and statement from Telstra.

Update, 9.20 p.m. AEDT: Telstra has offered an olive branch to its customers in the form of free mobile data this Sunday. You won't need to do anything to access the data (and you don't need to have been affected by today's outage) -- the freebie will apply automatically for all customers.