Telstra downplays 3G CBD issue


news The nation’s largest telco Telstra has sought to downplay issues being experienced by customers using its 3G mobile network in central business district areas, stating that it’s happy with how the network is performing but acknowledging that there are pockets in the network that could get congested and were scheduled to be upgraded.

After an article published on the issue last week, many Telstra customers came forward to highlight the issue, which is seeing customers in the CBD areas of major cities like Sydney and Melbourne unable to achieve necessary throughput on their smartphone, tablet or USB modem devices to access the Internet, despite having full mobile reception on those devices.

In an interview late last week, the company’s executive direct of networks & access technologies Mike Wright said Telstra was “very happy” with the network’s continuing performance, despite some problem areas with customers. Wright said he “absolutely recognised” that there were some trouble spots with individual cells within the network, but that the telco continually monitored the network with a view to finding and upgrading those areas experiencing congestion. “When we find it, we target it,” he said. “Our objective is to make sure that people aren’t inconvenienced.”

The executive said Telstra tracked the performance of every cell in its network. As traffic capacity moved up, the telco started planning to address the situation as each cell hit its limits. However, occasionally when things changed quickly Telstra’s “crystal ball” let it down, Wright said. “We’re not sitting here ignoring them.”

Wright pointed out that Telstra was continuing to bolt on new customers onto Next G at a rate of knots. In early February at the company’s financial results briefing session, it revealed that it had added some 774,000 new customers to its mobile network over the last six months of 2011 — continuing a massive growth trend experienced in the first half of that year.

“There’s a percentage of cells that we’re still playing catch-up with — pockets,” Wright said. “If you look at a national average, you do get individual ones. Drop-out rates are still quite stable; a few more cells need upgrades.”

Some customers had highlighted the fact that Telstra had offered a series of remarkable early deals on the fledgling 4G portions of its network, which operate in CBD areas on a different segment of wireless spectrum (1800MHz), compared with the 850MHz band used by the company’s existing 3G portion of its Next G network, which the overwhelming majority of customers are using.

Those customers had speculated that Telstra was attempting to shift heavy or regular mobile broadband users onto the 4G portion of its network in an attempt to free up capacity on its 3G network. However, although Wright acknowledged, as he has done in the past, that the rollout of 4G capabilities on Telstra’s network was partially designed to free up capacity, he said the new deals weren’t driven by engineering needs.

“That’s more from a marketing [angle] — not an engineering-driven thing,” he said, noting that Telstra needed to demonstrate the performance of 4G, which offers dramatically enhanced speeds over 3G, so that more people understood it. “Any sort of promotional thing is just that — it’s everybody’s job to promote the benefits.”

Telstra has already connected over 100,000 new devices to the 4G components of its network — despite the fact that only one handset supporting the network is on sale, and having only launched the network last year.

There are some specific issues which may be affecting some customers in CBD areas, according to Wright — which may have more to do with end user equipment than Telstra’s mobile network. For example, the executive said he was aware that some devices were roaming onto the 3GIS network which Telstra launched in partnership with then-mobile telco Hutchison (which has since merged with Vodafone). That network, which supports vastly reduced speeds compared with Next G, is slated to be shut down shortly, with its spectrum to be re-allocated.

“One of the things you might try — try doing a network scan and choosing the Telstra network,” said Wright, noting that a small percentage of users may be able to resolve their problems that way. In addition, other users may be able to return their connection to normal by switching their device off and on again. “Those things you hold in your hand are only software — sometimes turning the power on or off returns service,” the executive said.

Ultimately, Telstra’s Next G is a large and complex beast, and as with any mobile network, congestion will differ in different locations across geographies. Wright emphasised that Telstra did take “every single customer experience” on board, and encouraged customers to contact the telco directly with problems. In some cases, it could keep them directly informed when a certain area of its network was upgraded, he said. “If we can get that level of granularity for customers, we’re certainly interested in investigating the issue,” he said. “We’ll usually try and look into it.”

For example, Telstra closely examined areas in the Sydney CBD in which Delimiter itself experienced problems last week. “We couldn’t replicate your experience, except for one cell, which is scheduled for upgrade next week,” Wright said.

In addition, the executive also emphasised that Telstra did have a forward road map for continuing to invest in Next G. Over the past few weeks, it had upgraded ten cells in the Melbourne area, he said. And it was already planning for the future, when it would be able to access additional spectrum in the 700MHz and 2600MHz spectrum bands following government allocations in the area. 4G/LTE was also in the process of being rolled out more widely, and the company is also looking at the next step — LTE Advanced.

“We believe we have a strategy and a plan; we’ve been pleasantly surprised at the success of the network,” Wright said.

Do I believe Wright when he talks about the strength of Next G in the CBD areas of metropolitan areas? Yes, I do. The executive has never been anything but forthright with me over the years, and I know that he and his team are obsessively interested in tuning Next G to get the best performance out of it constantly. This is a labor of love for these engineers at Telstra.

However, I also believe Delimiter’s readers when they say they’ve been experiencing many more problems on Next G recently than they had been in the past. A year or so ago, I didn’t hear any complaints about Next G. Over the past few months I’ve heard plenty.

As always, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. Next G as a whole is definitely still performing acceptably, especially outside CBD areas. However, Wright’s view of the network is a 10,000 foot one, and I’m sure that problem spots are also popping up more frequently, and lasting longer until Telstra fixes them, now that Telstra has a few extra million users on the network.

That’s completely understandable. The extra load which has been thrust on Next G over the past year or so is simply incredible, and it’s a testament to Telstra’s team and network design that it has been able to keep up with the demand without completely buckling. God knows the networks of Vodafone and Optus couldn’t boast the same when they went under extreme loads over the past few years. Right now, Wright’s job description is basically that of playing Chief Whack-a-Mole for Telstra. Network troublespots will arise regularly, and he will dispatch a team to upgrade a cell. Then a new troublespot will arise, and he will smack that one down. Only time will tell how long this game will go on, and if it will ever completely stabilise. Telstra’s more or less holding its own for now. Let’s hope it can continue to.

Image credit: Telstra


  1. I hope you’re right, because Wright’s response to the issue comes across as glib. I look forward to an improved network in the coming weeks, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Re manually forcing handsets to the 850 MHz network: that’s the problem network in Melbourne’s CBD. I know because I’ve been forcing my phone onto it for the best part of two years.

    • 9 months ago – Next G was excellent from the CBD through to Burney on the train. Now (after a gradual decline over the intervening months) there is virtually no data during the afternoon peak – everything times out until you get past Burnley.

      If I use a 3G-enabled laptop with a really big antenna in the lid, you can get something, but it’s still markedly worse than it used to be.

  2. Cool ask Mr Wright to come and spend a few days with myself and my users. Everyday myself and some users are in a situation with 5 bars of service and not even enough bandwidth to send/receive a ping.

    If they haven’t resolved it by the time our contract expires unfortunately we’re leaving. Or hopefully by then there will be a 4G iPhone handset we can move onto

  3. Regardless of the occasional issues with the NextG network it is still far better than the band-aid networks of Vodafone and Optus. The vast majority of customers have no issues with NextG.

  4. When I first jumped ship from Vodafone, NextG was an amazing breath of fresh air… nowadays however I’m getting the same issues in Sydney CBD, 5 bars.. but no data.

  5. I have complained continuously to telstra via twitter about Bourke St & Collins St Melbourne between Queen and Elizabeth Sts. After almost a year of frustration they have upgraded Collins St. Bourke St is still a no data zone. I wonder if Mr Wright’s first name is always.

  6. It’s pretty bad in Melbourne.

    I was there today – 5 bars in the CBD – no bandwidth. Fair enough I say Telstra is stuffed in the CBD everyone knows that. Go to the airport – 5 bars in the lounge – no bandwidth.

    Someone at Telstra hasn’t been watching the fuel gauge or the wheel.

    The big man at Vodafone Australia has gone down, time for Thodey at Telstra? Not a good time to falter.

  7. Vodaphone’s folly was the inability to stop signing new customers up, they saw the immediate gain but lost the big picture. Sometimes it’s good business to say no to new business.

  8. Where are their planning department ?,are they sitting in the RTA planning office ?,same future
    capacity planning as the roads dept .

    Much like a government department ,(well they were some years ago ) they cruise along
    not giving a whack about what the clients or taxpayers are doing,without future planning its
    like an investment with a diminishing return.

    btw – Its not just the cbd ,regional areas are being “whacked” up also ,its becoming like a sky rim
    in most places .

    4g obvioulsy has routing priority as a sale point as others have indicated .

    Pull the digit out T so people get what they are paying for ,instead of providing a sales terminology
    mingled with dubious engineering excuses of bandwidth between 1-21 Mbps ,what a lot of hoo-hah.

    Sack the CEO if he doesnt fix this and the rim issues before EOY 2012.

    I hope iinet buys Telstra out ,at least iinet can provide future capacity implementations years ahead
    of over subscription .

    Some of us remember the days of not being able to “dial ” in because T was oversubscribed with customers,this is the same scenario .

    • Funny you should make a crack at the RTA as Telstra is currently running Fibre to all the offices around the state. :P

  9. &

    When the RTA realises the roads are over subscribed ,they put HWP & speeding cameras in various locations to catch people out ,so to raise the revenue they forgot to plan for to pay for the road upgrade
    requried 10 years further on,reaction planning at its best .

    With Telstra they dont put speed cameras out ,but they keep on squeezing the old shaping routine till there’s no bandwidth to shape ,say theres nothing wrong with their network ,say its your phone or dongle.the network cells collapse and we throw the dongle onto the train tracks,go to
    another provider and churn,,, but pay our contracts out,a brilliant win win for Helstra.

  10. Telstra downplaying congestion issues. In other news, the Sun set in the West this afternoon.

  11. Hardly an independant piece – the issue is Telstra congestion but you defend them by taking a shot at Optus and Vodafone! Mike Wright is an honest person but the spin has taken over. It is not just individual cells , to me it becomes clear that there is both a site and a spectrum issue and the LTE layer is crucial to offload data usage which is really the issue. Vodafone learnt quickly not to create spin , it would be great to see Telstra list all of these congested sites online on their website with dates on upgrades …… I’ll hold my breath!

  12. Do Telstra publish their site upgrades?

    It would be good if Telstra was more transparent with their upgrades. One part of the network rebuild that Vodafone seems to be doing well is letting people know where they have upgraded. This would go a long way to counteracting the cynicism that is present here.

  13. Telstra(p) = lies, lies and more lies.
    David T and his board, seem to have gone quiet after fleecing that $11 billion from the government for the NBN deal.
    telstra just does not care.
    Telstra only cares for the mutli million dollar companies (even that’s pushing it!).

    bring on the NBN!

  14. I have heard from a Telstra employee that since 4G was rolled out, it has severely impacted the 3G networks performance. This is the only reason people like me are having issues woth 3G. It has nothing to do with congestion. Telstra didn’t test the impact 4G would have on its other technology before it rolled out 4G. The 4G signal is simply creating interference with the 3G signal.

    • >>The 4G signal is simply creating interference with the 3G signal.

      Whilst I’m no expert, I really don’t think this is the case. As mentioned in the article: “which operate in CBD areas on a different segment of wireless spectrum (1800MHz), compared with the 850MHz band used by the company‚Äôs existing 3G portion of its Next G network, “

      • Its a little more technical than just different signals. These signals are being emitted from the same towers. These towers can only support so much bandwidth, regardless of the signal. If 4G is faster and sapping it – its to 3G’s detriment.

          • Trolls are out and about today I see…

            Matt raises a valid and true point.

            Sounds like he knows more than most. I wouldn’t be surprised if he works at Telstra and has decided to not tow the corporate line by actually telling us what the real issue is.

      • This is why its only occuring in the CBD and airports – because thats where 4G has been rolled out.

  15. Reminds me of vodafails response in the early days.

    Problem there is no problem, it must just be your handset. All is fine with the network there are no issues listed.

    Wonder if this is Telstrafail. Time will tell


    • It does indeed remind me of the early Vodafail situation. However, I think if things go too far Telstra will just start throwing money at the issue to rapidly fix it — they are an order of magnitude larger than Vodafone, after all — at least in Australia. I am sure the money would be being thrown directly at Ericsson, which built Next G in record time to start with.

      • For the best part of the last 12 months:

        When I sit down for lunch each day and look forward to some down time on my tablet but instead I’m trying to figure out why I can’t enjoy a YouTube video or even load a basic website – it’s gone too far already.

        I’m paying for a service that I’m not receiving. My optimism is gone. I want it fixed.

        • The Optus congestion ones are still going, hence why Optus directors are praying like crazy Vodafone will hurry the F up and build more towers and run more fibre.

          I’d wager that Joint Venture agreement is looking mighty tasty while Vodafone / Hutchison head honchos are here; they’d be selling their asses off to get Vodafone some more cash because Vodafone towers can be Optus towers too.

      • Even Telstra’s admitted the incredible superiority of Huawei’s SingleRAN Solution at the moment, especially with Frequency Load Balancing.

        If they’d do anything, Telstra would get Huawei on board.
        Networking at the moment is very volatile – the smaller more effectively managed companies from China are storming past the Slumbering Giants Ericsson and Nokia; who are in serious need of a wake-up call.

  16. I’ve been having problems with their network, sometimes have to continually disconnect/reconnect the mobile network in order to establish a stable connection.

  17. Perth CBD went through this exact issue last year and it was fixed but it took six months of agonising waiting for it to happen.

  18. Just as well Telstra decided to go with LTE-FDD (Frequency Division Duplex) instead of TDD (Time Division Duplex). I understand they were testing both, and TDD caused significantly more interference.

    In many articles I’ve read regarding LTE testing around the world, there were considerable concerns about interference, to, not just adjacent frequencies, but across most of the frequency band, and TDD was worse than FDD.

    I’ve noticed than Telstra 3G here in the city of Adelaide has improved in the last couple of weeks. I wonder if that’s due to infrastructure improvements, or whether it’s that all the visitors to the Fringe and Clipsal 500 have gone home?

  19. I guess it’s true that you get what you pay for.

    Telstra comes in with deliberately aggresive pricing to try and compete with the “budget” players like Vodafone. Guess what, everyone moves from Vodafone to Telstra. Telstra soon suffers the same fate – and they pretend they didn’t see it coming!

  20. Speculating ;

    Vodaphone now has 850 Mhz ,is this T’s or their own ,maybe the polarisation and reflection
    in the city isnt quite correct and is playing havoc with the nextg ?,although the city primarily relies on 2100Mhz ?.

    Now count the amount of dongles and phones on the tracks .

    Funny thing is you probably cant even ring them ….

  21. Maybe the engineer who was on the tv recently with his spectrum analyser could stand in
    central station and show how overcrowded the currently licensed frequency bands are
    for nextg ?.

    I’am sure you wont see Telstra or Optus engineers there anytime soon ,whacking a frequency,
    as they think they can do it via the office.

    Like a cartoon .

  22. I must say since leaving Optus 11 months ago to join Telstra the level of 3G service has deteriorated in Sydney CBD and North Sydney. I now get almost daily missed call notices at times when I have my phone on the desk beside me. Thing is, if this keeps up and Telstra level of service is the same experience as Optus and VHA we will have again a competitive environment again till then we have to accept telstra worts and all.

  23. I did notice earlier this week when I spent some time in the Brisbane CBD that my IPhone 4S had spent most of its time on next G 2100. I was surprised at how quickly the network put me back onto the 850 network in places where the 2100 signal would be weak.

    Eg: I walked into a pub outside In the mall I was on 2100 as i walked downstairs into the pub I was on 850.

    Although data speeds where still very good for me

    *touches wood*

  24. You should all realise by now that 3G/4G technology is a dead-end tech for providing internet access. There are limitations based on the tower tech and also no one wants another cell tower parked next to their house hence the difficulty of expanding the network. It doesn’t matter which network you are with every network will face the same bandwidth and saturation issues.

  25. I just hope when the new iPhone 5 comes out that it will be compatible with Telstra’s 4G. I’m having issues still with data… Perfect coverage otherwise…

  26. Telstra = empty promises. The “congested pocket” AKA half of Melbourne’s CBD in peak hours is a joke that has been ongoing since I signed up with Telstra (about 12 months ago +)
    They have done nothing but sit on their hands and hope for the problem to disappear.
    The problem is your customers are slowly going to disappear.

    How do you think Telstra got the “customer grab” to begin with? Data reliant phones became more popular and people began to leave their current providers FOR NOT PROVIDING! and came to Telstra.

    Now the tables turn again. Thumbs up Telstra.

  27. I have been waiting for months for Telstra to do something about this … the final straw was being told a few weeks ago that Telstra is “starting a project some time this year” that might fix the problem :-/ They did however release me from my contract so I could switch to TPG (in other words, Optus … but it seems better than Telstra so far in the Melbourne CBD).

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