November 8, 2023
More than 10 million Optus customers were without service for 14 hours Wednesday after a catastrophic outage took down its mobile and broadband networks.
The second-largest Australian telco has not yet revealed the cause of the outage, although many observers believe it was sparked by a botched software upgrade.
The crash was probably Australia's biggest ever, cutting health and emergency services, urban train services, contact centers, SMS authentication and electronic retail payments. Optus' MVNO customers were also affected.
It's the second time in just over a year that Optus has made national and global headlines for the wrong reasons. In September 2022 the company revealed that personal data of nearly 10 million customers had been breached – the biggest privacy leak in the country's history.
The network outage began at 4 a.m. eastern Australian time – the time of day when network upgrades are commonly scheduled. Matt Tett, head of local testing firm Enex Testlab, told the Guardian that it had the signs of a configuration problem – "nine times out of ten it's a configuration issue when you have such a big issue like that."
CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin said in a radio interview in the afternoon the fault was caused by "technical network issues" rather than a hack.
Optus must 'step up'
But by that time she and her company were being flayed by customers and media for their poor public communications as well as the crashed network.
Rosmarin did just one radio interview in the morning, prompting Communications Minister Michelle Rowland to call on the company to "step up and communicate with people."
Optus issued no press release during the day, and listed parent company Singtel waited until nearly 4 p.m. local time before issuing a brief statement to say services were being restored. The @Optus_help account on X (formerly Twitter) posted just six times during the outage.
Perhaps the company told itself it would wait until it had specific information to communicate. But the golden rule of crisis communications is to get your whole story out at once and to hold a frank conversation with people to reassure them you are on the job.
The ramifications for Optus' business and brand aren't good. The crash drove Singtel stock down 4.8% in Wednesday trading. Optus will likely have to pay compensation, probably in the form of rebates for retail customers and SLA-based payments to enterprise customers.
One state government leader is already talking about dumping Optus, and no doubt tens of thousands of other customers are contemplating the same decision.
An ABC opinion piece asks if Bayer Rosmarin will keep her job after this latest debacle. It's hard to see her surviving this time.
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