One of Australia’s largest telecommunications service providers, Optus, recently faced a significant outage in the early hours of Wednesday morning, affecting 10 million customers and over 400,000 businesses. This outage persisted for at least nine hours, leaving millions of Australians without internet access and cellular coverage. Additionally, it disrupted the services of telecommunications companies reliant on the Optus network, including Amaysim, Aussie Broadband, CatchConnect, Coles Mobile, and Dodo.

Although the exact cause of the outage is not yet known, Federal Communications Minister Michelle Rowland says initial information from Optus suggests it stemmed from issues deep within the telecommunications network, ruling out a cyber attack. This incident has prompted concerns from experts about the vulnerability of Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure due to cost-cutting measures and inadequate regulation.

The ramifications of the Optus outage rippled across the country, affecting vital services including government operations, public transport, healthcare providers, small businesses, and gig economy workers. Optus customers were unable to access their online banking, attend telehealth appointments, participate in job interviews, or work from home.

Casual and gig economy workers faced significant challenges during the outage. They were unable to be contacted by employers for potential shifts or utilise their phones for rideshare and delivery services, which had flow on effects for small businesses.

Business owners using Optus reported disruptions to their EFTPOS systems, network services, and mobile communications. This forced them to rely solely on cash transactions, which, in an increasingly cashless society, led to a substantial drop in revenue for many.

Bill Lang, Executive Director of Small Business Australia, advised businesses to take proactive steps to safeguard against future outages. This includes having a secondary SIM card from a different provider, possessing a compatible modem that can connect to the NBN, and alternative payment methods. Additionally, he also stressed the importance of having a contingency plan, such as an eSIM, to maintain communication channels during unforeseen disruptions.

If your business was affected by the Optus outage, we recommend that you:

  • Keep any receipts of costs incurred of any purchases you made, such as an alternative SIM card or prepaid wireless hotspot;
  • Compare your loss of earnings with a comparable day, such as the Wednesday prior, to identify the extent of the financial impact; and
  • Contact Optus directly and make a claim, though compensation is not guarunteed.

So far, Optus have offered 200GB of extra data for eligible postpaid customers, including for small businesses and personal accounts, and unlimited data on weekends for prepaid customers until the end of the year.

The recent Optus outage serves as a stark reminder of the critical importance of risk diversification for small businesses. In an era heavily reliant on telecommunications connectivity, having contingency plans in place, such as spare SIM cards and portable payment receivers, is essential for maintaining seamless operations, even in the face of unforeseen disruptions.

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