Mobile network outages: tips for consumers | ACMA

Mobile network outages: tips for consumers

Mobile network outages are a hot issue from time to time.

Although we take mobile connectivity for granted, when we’re not connected it can seriously affect both our personal and business lives.

If your service goes down, it’s important to know what’s going on and what you can do to get it up and running again as quickly as possible. So, how can you tell if you’re experiencing a mobile network outage and what can you do?

Watch our video for tips on how to manage a network outage.

What’s going on?

If you’ve lost connectivity at a location where you would normally have coverage, here’s some things to check:

  • Is it the device? First, check the device itself, whether it’s a phone, tablet or laptop. Check the battery is adequately charged and try switching the device off and on again. Sometimes this resets the device connection if there has been a network issue.
  • Do you have mobile data? Check mobile data is on, especially if you can’t access the internet. You can do this through the ‘settings’ menu.
  • Do you have a signal? Look at how many coverage bars your device is displaying compared to how many it normally displays. A low number of bars may indicate that your signal is weaker, while no bars may indicate either a coverage issue or a network issue. Do the number of bars change when you move around? If so, move to a more favourable location.
  • Is your device telling you something? Check any other relevant information on your home screen:
    • Does it list the name of the mobile network you’re connected to? If not, it may point to a network issue.
    • Does it say something like ‘emergency service only’ or ‘no service’? If so, it may point to a network issue, but it could also mean that you have moved out of the coverage range.
  • Is your account up-to-date? If you’re using a phone on a monthly billed plan and had a message that your service has call restrictions when you try to make a call, you’ll need to contact your telco to remove the barring before you’re able to use data. If you’re on a prepaid service and you get an ‘insufficient funds’ message when you try to load a web page, you’ll need to recharge or add some more data before you’ll be able to access the web.
  • Does your software need updating? Issues with your device’s software can affect its ability to connect to the web. If your device is running slowly or isn’t performing as expected, check if there’s a software update available for your device. Software updates often contain bug fixes for performance issues, so installing the latest update may fix the problem. Often carriers will publish information on their websites about software updates.
  • Can you test your SIM in another device? you have a compatible mobile device handy and you’re confident that you can remove/install the SIM, try the SIM in another device. If you don’t get service on the other device, it may point to a network issue (but remember, if the other device is locked to a different mobile network you won’t get service, regardless of any network issues).
  • Has your telco given any updates? Check for information on outages being provided by your telco or shared by other customers. Telcos are required to ensure all information given to consumers (including information about network reliability, coverage and service outages) is clear, accurate, relevant, current and timely: 
    • Often telcos have a specific web page dedicated to scheduled and non-scheduled network issues, or may note larger scale service issues on their home page. Check these links to network information webpages:
    • Some telcos have online customer service forums where you can ask a question about the issue or read what other customers are saying about the issue.
    • Check your telco’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.
    • Try calling your telco’s service centre (although there can be long wait times if there is a significant network outage). Telcos may have a recorded message acknowledging the network issue and the estimated time for a fix.
    • If you have friends using the same network, ask them if they have a connection. 

Of course, most of these checks can only be made if you’ve got access to a voice or data service other than your own mobile. However, you can always ask a friend or family member to check the sources above on their device and let you know.

I’ve confirmed it’s an outage—what can I do? 

Once you’ve established that your mobile service is affected by a network outage, unfortunately there’s not much you can do to speed up reconnection. But you can minimise the impact of the outage:

  • Try to get access to another voice service. This could be a fixed-line service at your workplace or home, a VoIP application over a broadband service, or a mobile service borrowed from family or friends. You can use this service to call people and let them know how to make return contact.
  • Try to get internet access using a Wi-Fi connection. First, go to the Wi-Fi settings on your handset to ensure Wi-Fi is switched on. There may be a free public Wi-Fi connection available in your area or alternative Wi-Fi services that you can access, such as internal Wi-Fi access at your work. You can use this Wi-Fi service to email or message people and let them know how to make return contact.

Depending on the nature and duration of the fault, your telco may also be able to forward your calls to another number. This will likely only be an option if the outage is very lengthy.

Even if you’re affected by a network outage, you should be able to access Triple Zero to call emergency services if another carrier provides mobile coverage at your location.

If I experience an outage, what are my rights?

Mobile networks are complex and some outages will occur from time to time. No telco guarantees to provide you with 24/7 mobile connectivity and there are no laws requiring them to do so. Whether a failure to provide service due to a mobile network outage amounts to a breach of your service contract will depend on the:

  • reasons for the outage
  • terms of your contract.

Generally, mobile service contracts DO promise that the mobile service will be delivered with care and skill but expressly DO NOT promise it will be free from faults or interruptions. Some telcos have provisions in their customer contracts that allow you to apply for a refund or rebate of access fees when an outage affects your ability to use the service. However, this is usually conditional on it being a significant outage and you not having contributed to the issue.

Sometimes a telco will voluntarily offer consumers some ‘compensation’ as a goodwill gesture for the loss of mobile service, like a part-refund for the outage period.

You also have rights and remedies under the consumer guarantees provisions of the Australian Consumer Law that cannot be waived by a contract. If network outages are frequent and/or severe, this service could be deemed a major failure. In these instances, regardless of what is stated in your contract, you can:

  • seek refunds or rebates for the period you are without service
  • cancel your contract without penalty
  • seek compensation for any loss occurred as a result of the major failure.

However, if the outage is only minor and your telco can fix this within a reasonable time, this will be seen to remedy the problem. Whether an outage is major or minor will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. More information on consumer guarantees is on the ACCC website.

If you have experienced an outage that has caused you concern, speak with your telco about a possible resolution. If you’re not happy with your telco’s proposed resolution, you may be able to make a complaint to the TIO on 1800 062 058 or at www.tio.com.au.

Get more information about networks from the providers:

Last updated: 17 August 2017