By OLIVER BROWN
A PLANNED upgrade to the local Telstra tower left residents and businesses wondering what had happened to their phones and internet last week.
From emails not working properly to phone calls not going through despite having ‘full bars’ of service, the most notable disruptions were observed on Wednesday 24 March.
For manager of the local Cant Bros. Home Hardware store Tim O’Neil, internet issues first started appearing on Monday 22 March and had a big impact on how he ran the store.
“Our business heavily relies on the internet – all our orders, all of our invoicing, everything’s done online,” Mr O’Neil said.
“It’s a bit frustrating because we’re so reliant on it for sending orders and if we can’t get stock, we’ve got nothing to sell.”
According to Mr O’Neil, while last week had been particularly bad, slow internet speeds were not new to him and his team at the store.
“Our internet speed’s pitiful; I was just now trying to download an update that our guys in Gil had already done – it took them a minute to do the update and it’s a six minute update here,” he said.
Just down the road, Melissa Randall from Leonard’s Store said they had no ability to accept EFTPOS payments until at least midday.
“We lost about $400 worth of sales – they’ve all gone in the book and they will be back to pay, but there’s just no money in the till,” Ms Randall said.
“Nearly 98 per cent of our business is via cards – everyone has cards these days, not cash – so yeah this sort of thing really affects us bad, because customers will go.”
On the other end of the main street staff at stock and station agency Halcroft and Bennett, were facing issues on two different fronts, unable to access emails or contact their people on the ground.
“The boys do a lot of texting of their sales for cattle and details like that, and they weren’t getting through, so it was mainly the mobile service that was really horrid,” Jo Day said.
“It just wastes time because the boys have to work remotely and we’re just not getting messages and phone calls from them.
“It also affects Mary and Fiona with sales of houses – if their phone calls get interrupted, then that could frustrate buyers.”
Many individuals and businesses approached throughout the day couldn’t understand why the issues kept occurring, with local IT technician Al Dodd receiving a constant stream of callouts throughout the day.
“It affected all services – internet, 4G, 3G, everything was in and out all the time,” Mr Dodd said.
“This is not the first time – about a week before this, it was out altogether.”
Mr Dodd was also affected as a business owner, with the spotty mobile coverage preventing some of his customers getting through to him.
“A lot of people ring me on my mobile direct and they can’t ring me and they don’t think I’m there because it just goes straight to my voicemail – they think ‘oh he’s on the phone’ and I’m not,” he said.
Telstra customers who actually got online and visited the Telstra outage web page that day confirmed that the disruptions were being caused by an upgrade to its 4G mobile network and installation of 5G technology.
Telstra’s Regional General Manager for NSW Mike Marom said the works had begun on Monday 15 March and had been completed ahead of schedule by Wednesday 24 March.
“To complete this upgrade we needed to switch off mobile services temporarily for small periods of time over certain days while our crews undertook this important work,” Mr Marom said.
“Customers in the area may have noticed an impact to their mobile services during this time and Telstra apologises for any inconvenience caused.
“While our crews need to work during daylight for safety, we only switched off the site when we needed to and had it back on as quickly as possible.
Despite this, many Telstra customers questioned why they hadn’t been notified of these potential disruptions ahead of time.
Mr Marom said this had been planned but, for an unspecified reason, this had not happened.
“Upgrade works of this nature are normally shared with our local customers via a SMS notification, although unfortunately that did not occur in this instance,” he said.
“We have already taken steps to address this for future upgrades.”
However, Mr Dodd said that it was likely Telstra hadn’t expected the maintenance would affect all services in this way, regardless of prior notification.
“People shouldn’t have to expect something like this – when they brought the NBN in, they had the backup for it which was the mobile Next G service. So this has affected a lot more people than they realise, because it went too.”
“Some people’s lives could have been in danger with this too because they rely on the mobile network – when they brought the NBN in, a lot of people got away from having a home phone, so when an issue like this happens, they’ve got nothing.”
According to Mr Marom, customers in the township and town’s outskirts can now reap the benefits of the upgrade, faster internet speeds – though with a reduced geographic range – through 5G coverage.
Outside of this area, people will still be able to access Telstra’s existing 3G and 4G coverage. Mr Marom said customers wishing to access the new 5G coverage will need a 5G compatible device and sign up for a 5G plan.