Millions of Australians are without mobile and internet services as Optus scrambles to rectify a nationwide outage.
Optus, Australia’s second-largest telecommunications provider servicing some 10.4 million mobile customers, 1.3 million home customers and 400,000 business customers, started experiencing issues at approximately 4am AEDT.
Soon after, countless Australians woke up to find they were unable to access the internet or make and receive calls, as Optus suffered an outage being described as the biggest national phone outage to date.
“We are aware of an outage impacting our customers,” an Optus spokesperson told Information Age.
“Our teams are working to restore services as soon as possible.”
The outage has left many students unable to make exams, employees unable to access work networks and patients missing out on vital telehealth calls – but most notable is the impact to emergency services Triple Zero (000).
“We now understand, and this has been confirmed, that calls to Triple Zero the emergency service cannot be made from Optus landline services,” said Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland in a Wednesday morning press conference.
“I want to assure all Australians that the top priority of this government is keeping Australians safe.
“That particularly encompasses access to emergency services and Triple Zero.”
Optus has confirmed Triple Zero calls will not function from Optus landlines, and is advising customers who need to contact emergency services to use a mobile line instead.
Through a process known as “camping”, emergency calls from a mobile service can still be performed in the event another carrier is available.
“Optus can confirm that Triple Zero ("000") calls will not work from an Optus landline (fixed line telephone),” an Optus spokesperson said.
“Mobile calls to 000 will work if another carrier is available.”
Many hospitals have also reported their phone lines are currently down as a result of the outage, with Ramsay Health Care – a healthcare provider which operates 73 private hospitals and day surgeries across Australia – referring people to online contact forms rather than phonelines.
“Ramsay hospital phone services are being impacted by a national outage of Optus telecommunications,” reads the Ramsay Health Care website.
“If you need to contact your local Ramsay hospital, please direct inquiries via the contact form on the hospital’s website.”
Hospitals in the Metro North Hospital and Health Service in Brisbane, NSW Health and all major hospitals in Melbourne have also been affected by the outage.
“We will provide an update as soon as we are able,” an Optus spokesperson said.
“Optus apologises sincerely to customers.”
Melbourne trains delayed by outage
Victoria’s Department of Transport has linked significant train delays to the ongoing Optus outage after Metro Trains – Melbourne’s train services operator – reported its systems failed this morning.
The outage left Metro Trains’ control centre unable to communicate with trains on the network for approximately one hour, effectively halting train services across Melbourne early Wednesday morning.
Metro Trains chief executive Rayhmond O’Flaherty apologised to commuters for the delays and thanked them for their patience.
“Our engineers worked quickly to rectify the issue and we were able to resume trains shortly before 6am,” said O’Flaherty.
While trains have since resumed, ongoing delays left countless passengers struggling to get to work and students scrambling to make it to their Victorian VCE exams.
Many commuters who had internet access turned to rideshare services such as Uber – leading to increased surge pricing for Victorians due to a sudden off-peak, high-demand period on the service.
Given the circumstances, Uber has since put a cap on its surge pricing in Melbourne, but also reported issues of its own following the Optus outage.
"We are experiencing impacts to Uber's service following the Optus outage,” said Uber.
"We are proactively encouraging driver partners who are able to go online to help keep Australia moving where possible."
Small businesses scramble for alternatives
Small business owners who use Optus found themselves largely without EFTPOS during the outage – forcing them to either arrange an alternative internet connection or collect payments in cash.
“I came into work this morning and my business partner has been trying to use the internet since 5:30am,” said Fu Chung, co-owner of Brunswick, Victoria-based cafe Gloria.
“I’m pretty frustrated. We’re a small business, and while situations like this do happen it can really throw a spanner in the works.
“The business uses Optus, but it’s lucky that I’m personally with Vodafone – I’m just hotspotting from my phone.
“We’ve had to do a makeshift situation to continue collecting payments and keep the music playing.”
While countless small businesses struggle to collect payments, banks such as ANZ and Westpac have both reported difficulties in receiving calls from customers – leaving business owners to think on their feet.
In her Wednesday morning press conference, Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland laid out firm expectations for the telco during its unfolding outage.
“I think Optus needs to make sure they step up and communicate with people because as I understand it, this started in the early hours of this morning, we're now at 11 o'clock.
“For a lot of people who are trying to get on with their day and their businesses, this absolutely vital that they get back to normality.”
When will services be restored?
When asked about the cause of the outage, Rowland offered what little information was currently available.
“My understanding is that this is a fault deep in the core,” said Rowland.
“The core network basically encompasses everything from routing to electronics.
“So, it is a fault that is quite fundamental to the network.
“But my understanding having just recently spoken again to the CEO is that a number of problems have been identified, and that Optus continues to work on this.”
Following the landmark 2022 data breach at Optus – which saw the personal information of 9.8 million Australians exposed – many were quick to speculate over whether Optus’ current outage could be attributed to a cyber attack.
Rowland said she did not have “any information” to confirm the outage was caused by a cyber attack, and Optus chief executive officer Kelly Bayer Rosmarin further told ABC Radio Sydney there is “no indication that it is anything to do with spyware at this stage.”
At the time of writing, an Optus spokesperson confirmed “some services across fixed and mobile are now gradually being restored”.
“This may take a few hours for all services to recover and different services may restore at different sites over that time,” they said.