Australia’s mobile phone network is being overloaded as people stay at home, many of them attempting to contact government agencies.
- Telstra says most of the congestion is from the high number of calls to government agencies amid the coronavirus crisis
- Telcos are working to fast-track upgrades to manage the higher call volumes
- The disruption is making life difficult for businesses that rely on mobile phones to communicate
Consumers are venting their frustration at some calls not being connected, with a recorded message saying the network is too congested, while others suffer dropouts.
Telstra said the growing number of people working from home had seen congestion impact 3 to 4 per cent of calls on its mobile network.
Regional general manager Mike Marom said most of the congestion was from the high number of calls to government 13 and 1800 numbers.
“We’ve recently seen call volumes on the mobile network increase by about 50 per cent in some cases, due to people working from home and the kids being home from school,” he said.
“The number of calls made to government agencies has also increased by three times to as many as 20 times the usual call volume.
“With all voice traffic now delivered by data, it means the network is being congested by the sheer number of calls.
“It’s like a highway with two lanes but you have traffic that needs five lanes.”
Mr Marom said while data was unaffected, Telstra and other telcos were working to fast-track upgrades on interconnection points and progress was being made to manage the higher call volumes.
“Already we are seeing significantly improved capacity, but there may still be some disruption to calls.”
Network dropouts ‘frustrating’
The mobile phone disruption is making life difficult for businesses that rely on them to communicate.
James Sweetapple, the owner of Cargo Road Winery in central west New South Wales, said he made up to 60 calls a day and estimated that more than half of those on Telstra’s network in the past fortnight had dropped out.
“It’s severely frustrating; I’m talking to someone and the call just drops out or we can’t hear each other,” he said.
“It then takes six or seven attempts to redial to reconnect.
“I live only 10 minutes from Orange, I have a new phone and usually have excellent reception, and when I contact the company, I get the run-around and never hear back from them.”
Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak
Claire Butler is president of the NSW Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association and is based in Balranald on the NSW-Victoria border.
“In the last couple of weeks, it is very common to have a call just go dead and then it is quite difficult to get people back on the line,” she said.
“In rural areas we rely on the phones to be able to talk to people, so a reliable phone service is critical.
“We use email a lot, but sometimes we just need to speak to people on the phone.”
Miss Butler said in recent weeks the signal from her local mobile tower did not seem as strong as normal.
Your questions on coronavirus answered:
Spikes not unprecedented, Minister says
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the issues were being worked through to improve the service.
“It’s not an issue about the strength of signal coming from mobile phone base stations but instead the way calls move between networks,” Mr Fletcher said.
“If you place a call and it doesn’t go through, then generally if you try again a few minutes later the call will connect.
“It is important network quality is maintained and Telstra is working hard on the issue.”
Mr Fletcher said the issues were being caused by traffic spikes on the network and were not unprecedented.