What we can learn from the Optus outage

Andrea Atzori
By Andrea Atzori | 10 November 2023
Andrea Atzori.

Andrea Atzori is co-founder and director at Ambire.

What an eventful week this week has been so far.


Tuesday - The race that stops the nation.

Wednesday - The outage that truly stopped the nation.

Jokes aside, what can we learn from the recent Optus debacle? Well looking at the data, Google shows that its search engine was literally flooded with people frantically looking for an update:

Optus analytics 

On Wednesday, searches for ‘optus’ and ‘optus outage’ spiked like there was no tomorrow. But the general outcry didn’t stop there.

People were hungry for answers, and so searches for ‘outage fixed’, ‘when will be fixed’, ‘when will be optus back’ were amongst the most popular:

Optus search

This further alludes to the growing concerns that Optus’ comms strategy was not really up to scratch and that the team was (again) caught by surprise with no explanation.

One would have expected that Optus had learned their lesson from last year’s cyber attack; but it seems that they were not well prepared for another crisis.

In fact, scrolling down the list of the most searched words we find ‘optus still down’ or ‘how long is optus down for’.

Optus search 2

I can only imagine the frustration of those users that felt they were left in the dark and eager to know what was going on.

The data also shows how disgruntled users started looking at alternatives:

Optus data

Although relatively small when compared to Optus, searches for competing Australian telcos, Telstra and Vodafone, began to rise.

Regardless of whether it was intentional, it is not surprising that competitors were there with compelling ads when people were searching for answers:

Optus search

Without delving too deeply into the implications of this incident, like how public infrastructure and essential services were impacted, it is also interesting to see how this affected people on multiple levels.

From a financial perspective there is no doubt that many businesses have been left out of pocket on Wednesday; whether it be because either their establishment or customers being unable to complete transactions.

But we can also see from the data that this outage sent shockwaves large enough to potentially wipe large sums of money off shareholders:

Optus share


The screenshot above shows that at 12pm, concerns of a still-evolving situation with no imminent fix in sight, and little communication coming from Optus, raised concerns that peaked in searches for the Optus stock price.

So now that everything has been sorted and all services should be back up and running as intended, what can we learn from this?

Certainly that in such an intricate and complex daily life we must always be prepared for the unexpected.

No system is faultless; no process is flawless. And even plans B and C, or D can fail us.

So the most important thing is to make sure that we can be open to possible failures and be transparent.

Many felt that the lack of information provided by Optus was insufficient throughout the period of their outage. People want and need to be kept aware of what is going on.

Mistakes can be forgiven, but can the same be said for lack of transparency?

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