Mobile losses not confined to western Queensland

Widespread Telstra mobile outages disrupting rural communities

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Blackall resident have become used to seeing this outage notice on the Telstra site in recent weeks.

Blackall resident have become used to seeing this outage notice on the Telstra site in recent weeks.

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Don't have all your telecommunications eggs in one basket, is the comment Better Internet for Rural Regional and Remote Australia has as a spate of mobile broadband outage issues emerge in Queensland and elsewhere.

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Don't have all your telecommunications eggs in one basket, is the comment Better Internet for Rural Regional and Remote Australia has as a spate of mobile broadband outage issues emerge in Queensland and elsewhere.

BIRRR founder Kirsty Sparrow said she had found none of the options available to make calls and access the internet were 100 per cent reliable, but it was highly unlikely that people would lose access to more than one of those at once.

She also said it was important to report faults each time they happened.

"Nothing will happen unless you report it," she said. "Having said that, if I lodged a complaint every time our broadband went on holidays, I'd be constantly on the phone."

People from as far apart as Weipa, Dalby, Inglewood and Blackall have reported experiencing loss of their mobile broadband service as recently as this week, with some saying it had become an ongoing problem for them.

At Weipa, police inspector Mark Henderson said mobile services were lost every few weeks in the Cape, often for five to 10 days at a time.

"Try as recently as yesterday for a few hours, then about three weeks ago for about six-eight days, then try a few weeks before that," he said. "Telstra would have to be aware there's a problem there."

Dalby's Deb Mintram said her mobile problem started on October 21.

"We breed cattle and on the day in question we had a cow prolapse," she said. "We couldn't contact the vet as we needed to use her mobile and didn't know that at the time mobiles weren't working."

After finally making contact when the vet clinic opened and going into town, Ms Mintram was prescribed antibiotics, which she had a supply of in the fridge at home, but was unable to contact the property to see what the expiry date was.

That meant she had to outlay more money to ensure she had the medication on hand.

"I also had deliveries to make for another small business I have, and couldn't contact customers so had to drive to each delivery to see if they were around.

"That is how I know that businesses were affected as one customer works at Performance Seeds and she had to go home as there was no internet, and Foodworks couldn't operate as they had no EFTPOS.

"My husband works at a power station and last week they had no mobiles for several days.

"I know it cost me money a direct result of the outage as a farmer."

Ms Mintram said she went away two days after the outage first occurred and it was still happening when she came home 11 days later, but was unable to say if it had been continually occurring in that timeframe.

According to a Facebook post by The WA Nationals, these occurrences may not be confined to Queensland.

On December 5 they posted a message asking if people were losing their connectivity, saying their MPs and their offices were receiving reports of a spate of mobile phone call drop-outs around the state, which attracted 196 frustrated comments.

One said it had "been happening flat out on 4g for the past few weeks in mid north SA as well....drop out nearly every call!"

Telstra working to overcome challenges

Telstra's regional general manager in Queensland, May Boisen said there was no doubt that the state's diverse environments and huge landmass presented challenges, but said the telecommunications giant worked hard with communities to overcome these challenges and was always looking to new technologies to improve coverage and network reliability.

Choosing not to address the myriad of outage issues raised, other than to say each would have to be looked into individually, Ms Boisen said Telstra led the way when it comes to providing mobile coverage to regional Queenslanders.

"Over the last five years, we've invested $8 billion into our mobile network and about $3 billion of that has been spent in regional areas," she said.

"This includes investing more than $250 million in the federal government's Mobile Black Spot Program, more than double the commitment of all the other carriers combined.

"We have also installed more than 200 small cells in selected areas, which will bring high speed 4G data services to small country towns."

The investment made in improving communications services in regional and remote Australia was the response given by a spokesman for federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, when asked to comment on the growing frustrations experienced by mobile users.

"Mobile carriers will minimise service disruption wherever possible, however sometimes this is unavoidable in order for upgrade work to take place," the spokesman said, adding that carriers were expected to communicate any planned outages to their customers.

He said that including co-contributions from the states and the mobile network operators, the first four rounds of the program had generated a total investment of over $760 million, and was funding the delivery of 1047 mobile base stations.

Round five of this program is currently being assessed and successful locations are expected to be announced early next year.

The spokesman said the Mobile Black Spot Program encouraged competition in the market by incentivising co-location for mobile base stations funded under the program.

BIRRR's Kirsty Sparrow said some of the people out of town who had reported outages to their landline service when the mobile broadband service went down were NGWL customers receiving a landline service via 3G.

She said there were around 9000 receiving their service this way in rural Australia, mostly in Queensland's central west and in central NSW.

"And if people's power is out, their NBN service also goes out, meaning they've got no landline and no internet.

"If the power outage goes on, power is eventually lost at the mobile towers and you lose mobile as well.

"There's no universal service obligation for internet or mobile data - that's just the way it is."

Blackall-Tambo mayor Andrew Martin said the whole reason his council was investing $1.25m in a point-to-point service was because of the way the communities had been treated by Telstra.

Read more: Wifi deal to be the envy of Australia

"At the heart of this issue is the simple fact that Telstra has had an increase in demand of around 350 per cent over the last five years for their services and have provided 0pc increase in their budget for maintainance and upgrade," he said.

He added that those figures were two years old and could be different now, adding that he had "considerable sympathy for the recipients of this historic disregard for the bush, as well as Telstra executivies who had inherited this dogfight".

On the outages being experienced in his area, he said he was surprised they took so long to happen.

"People have got to be able to operate - children need an education and businesses need to operate - so our council made the decision to invest a considerable amount of money to give them that," Cr Martin said. "Why fight a fire with Telstra? It's too late - if they want to use our towers we can charge them."

Ms Boisen said Telstra would continue to work and invest in the regions to keep customers connected.

The story Mobile losses not confined to western Queensland first appeared on North Queensland Register.

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