With outages, if you are in a hole stop digging

06 Apr 2016

As featured in DisruptiveViews

“One outage is not good enough, two is absolutely unacceptable,” so said Telstra CEO Andy Penn, when a third network outage last month meant that a small percentage of voice calls could not be connected. The first, back in February was blamed on ‘human error’ and caused widespread criticism that resulted in Telstra offering a day of free data as compensation.

That 24 hours of ‘free data’ created such a deluge of demand (actually the equivalent of 2.3 million hours of video) that makes you gasp when you contemplate the continuing hunger for data. One, now infamous, Australian managed to download over 400GB.

So when the second outage occurred in March, apparently because of things on networks trying to reconnect all at once and causing the whole network to slow down dramatically, what did Telstra do? Yup, it offered customers another day of free data. And guess what? The now infamous data demon managed to download just shy of a terabyte of stuff, enough to keep him in Simpsons and Stargate episodes for the unforeseeable future. Mind you, he had an extra hour to exploit as clocks went back an hour marking the end of daylight savings.

And, because truth is generally stranger than fiction, the massive (and completely predictable) demand for data caused the, wait for it, network to become so overloaded that Telstra had to throttle customers in certain areas and – worst of all – during the ‘footy!’

Now, there are few things dearer to the heart of the average Australian than football – all four codes followed devoutly by almost every man, woman and child. The frustration was increased because customers who were prepared to pay to watch the game and those subscribed to the service could not, on account of the throttling.

So, what now?

Will Telstra, in its infinite and continuing wisdom, dig an even deeper hole and offer customers yet another free data day?

If it does, and it goes wrong – again – the damage to its reputation will be beyond our feeble minds to grasp and it may lose many loyal customers. With network coverage and reliability being ‘table stakes’ in the new, digital world, competitors must be rubbing their hands with glee. We should also feel sorry for the demon data downloader – another sleepless night for him.

You have to ask if making headlines for launching breakthrough technology and pushing mobile network speeds to the limit is of any value when basic connectivity cannot be supplied. Since the departure of the affable, well-respected and successful CEO, David Thodey, Telstra's image, subscriber numbers and stock price have been heading southwards.

The incredible announcement of the appointment of the world’s most famous one-man disaster area, Stephen Elop, as Group Executive of Technology, Innovation, and Strategy will surely do nothing to help Telstra out of the slump it finds itself in. “Stephen will immediately add major firepower to our team with his extensive and deep technology experience and an innate sense of customer expectations,” Penn said in the statement. He, and Telstra staff, want to hope that firepower is not directed at them, after all Elop’s reputation is punctuated by burning oil platforms, massive crew dismissals and sinking ships.

If that happens Telstra can always bring back ex CEO, Sol Trujillo to save the day. Maybe Elop has been planted there as the Trojan horse to drive down Telstra’s share price so Sol can buy it out. I hear he is looking for a phone company to buy.

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