More than 10 million Australians were cut off from internet and phone services on Wednesday after unexplained outages struck one of the country’s largest communications companies.
Optus said it was scrambling to pinpoint and fix the outages, which crashed electronic payment systems and disrupted phone lines for emergency services.
Company chief executive Kelly Bayer Rosmarin told national broadcaster ABC there was “no indication” the outage was the result of hacking or a cyberattack.
“Our team is still pursuing every possible avenue. We had a number of hypotheses and each one so far that we’ve tested and put in place new actions for has not resolved the fundamental issue,” she said.
“When we have identified a root cause and a time for restoration, we’ll be updating everybody as soon as we can,” she added.
The Australian government said mobile phones, landlines and broadband internet had been impacted.
Optus, Australia’s second-largest telecoms firm and a subsidiary of Singtel, said it had identified the outage at around 4:05 am local time.
But widespread issues were still plaguing the network more than seven hours later.
Dozens of hospitals were unable to receive phone calls, and landline phones on the Optus network could not ring emergency services.
The poisons hotline in the state of New South Wales also said it was impacted.
And there was rush-hour chaos in the city of Melbourne after a “communications outage” disrupted train services.
“Our teams are working to restore services as soon as possible,” an Optus company spokesperson said in an earlier statement.
“Optus apologises sincerely to customers.”
– ‘Absolute disgrace’ –
Australian Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said the Optus outage had been caused by a “deep fault” in a “fundamental” part of the company’s network.
“What we do know is that this is a deep fault. It has occurred deep within the network,” she told reporters.
“It has wide ramifications across mobile, fixed, and broadband services for Optus customers.
“Customers are clearly frustrated about it, and Optus should respond to that accordingly.”
Australia’s Communication Workers Union said the outage was an “absolute disgrace”, suggesting it was linked to recent job losses at the company.
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology researcher Mark Gregory said Wednesday’s disruptions showed there were fundamental problems in Australia’s communications networks.
“Single point of failure related outages have occurred too often over the past decades and it is time that the government steps in to force the telecommunications industry to build redundancy into the networks and systems.”
Ramsay Health Care said on Facebook that phones were down at its 73 private hospitals and day surgery units, while Sydney’s Westmead Private Hospital also said its phone lines were down.
Other companies to report issues included health insurer Bupa, airline Virgin Australia, and health and safety watchdog WorkSafe.
A carer said he had not been able to call an ambulance for one of his patients, telling ABC Radio Melbourne: “I had to run out on the street and borrow a phone from someone walking his dog.”
The outages come just over a year after more than nine million Optus customers had their personal data stolen during a cyber attack.