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Millions without phone and internet connection in Australia as telecom provider’s network crashes

file photo: a woman uses her mobile phone as she walks past in front of an optus shop in sydney
File photo:: An Optus shop in Sydney

Millions of Australians were left without a phone or internet connection on Wednesday after the country’s second-largest telecommunications provider experienced an unexplained nationwide outage.

The outage crippled payment systems and online operations and led to morning peak-hour chaos as train networks and ride share services were down briefly in some cities. Some hospital and emergency services were also impacted.

Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin ruled out a cyber attack but in an interview on ABC Radio did not give a reason for the outage, already in its eighth hour.

“It is highly unlikely (that the problem started within software in Optus networks), our systems are actually very stable … This is a very, very rare occurrence,” she said.

“We are working really hard to get it up and running as soon as we possibly can.”

Optus is the Australian unit of telecoms firm Singapore Telecommunications STEL.SI and has more than 10 million customers, about 40% of Australia’s population.

Some services across fixed and mobile were gradually being restored but it could take a few hours for all services to recover, Optus said later on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Without my phone I pretty much can’t do anything. I’m looking for a bank, and when you can’t go onto your phone and Google pretty much you are lost,” said Angela Ican outside the Optus store in Sydney’s central business district

Construction worker Kyle, who did not give his full name, said he wanted answers from Optus.

“I was running late for work and couldn’t let my boss know. When I got on site I couldn’t find my boss – it’s been a big day,” he told Reuters.

The outage comes after a cyber breach last year exposed personal details of millions of Optus customers, including home addresses, driver licence and passport numbers.

The parent company Singtel has said earlier this year that after the cyber attack Optus made several investments to lift its capabilities and provide additional protection for customers.

Singtel shares were down 3.2% on the Singapore bourse after reports of the major outage.

LIMITED INFORMATION

Melbourne’s train networks were forced to shut down for about 30 minutes due to the outage, resulting in delays during the morning rush, media reported.

Hospitals and emergency services across the country were also hit by the outage. Ramsay Health Care RHC.AX, which owns 70 hospitals and clinics in Australia, said its phone services were impacted. Emergency triple zero (“000”) calls were not working from Optus landlines.

Banking services, including some ATMs using Optus, were also impacted. Commonwealth Bank CBA.AX, the country’s biggest lender, said some customers may encounter difficulties with its services.

Federal Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said she had limited information about the outage.

“What we do know is that this is a deep fault. It has occurred deep within the network. It has wide ramifications across mobile, fixed, and broadband services for Optus customers,” Rowland told reporters.

She asked Optus to step up and provide timely updates.

“Customers are clearly frustrated about it and Optus should respond to that accordingly,” she said.

Bill Corcoran an Australian Research Council Future Fellow at Monash University said the comments from Optus and the government suggest that the issue is with networking and control of infrastructure.

“This would be something like when you get an airline shutdown due to ‘IT issues’ – the expensive planes and so on are all ready to go, but the organization behind running those things has failed,” Corcoran said.

“Maybe this incident will cause us to have a closer look at how we want to run this critical national infrastructure across multiple private companies,” he said.

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