No Luggage: +1 Washing Machine, -1 Optus

No Luggage: +1 Washing Machine, -1 Optus

The good news? In Brisbane, I have a washing machine. The bad news? Optus apparently thinks data services are an unnecessary luxury throughout the Brisbane CBD. It’s one thing to have no luggage, but how can I do any work with no net connection?As I hinted on Tuesday, my ending up in Brisbane on Origin night was a total coincidence. I’m entirely sympathetic to league fans who feel utterly rorted by Nine’s HD-free approach to sports broadcasts, but I didn’t realise that Origin was even on until it became apparent that all my usual Brisbane hotel choices were unavailable.

In the end, I booked the same venue in Kangaroo Point we used when we staged our Lifehacker reader meetup in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago. Familiarity aside, that had one big benefit: it was a serviced apartment, complete with its own washing machine and dryer. Because I had been concentrating on low-cost hotels, serviced apartments had rarely been an option, but in Brisbane there wasn’t any other choice. That meant no stressing over the washing/drying routine, and a chance to fully wash my gear at the halfway point.

That should have made Brisbane the most relaxed night of the trip. However, I didn’t count on a virtual Optus meltdown which left me Internet-free for several hours. I’m in online publishing. That’s like chopping my legs off. And I’m not in the middle of nowhere, where you might expect problems; I’m right in the centre of Australia’s third-largest city.

Optus goes dark

I’d been having connectivity problems in Brisbane ever since I hit the CBD, with the connection alternating between non-existent, voice only and occasional minor bursts of GPRS. By the time I got to my Kangaroo Point apartment, it was entirely dead.

I connected and reconnected. I powered off and rebooted. I discovered that there were no Wi-Fi options in this complex, only cabled Internet for a fee. I left the apartment and roamed the streets. And finally, when it became clear nothing else had worked, I rang Optus support.

After 30 minutes on hold, a tech support person finally answered and told me that “maybe” someone had dug through some fibre in the vicinity, and “perhaps” it would be fixed shortly. That didn’t happen until some time after midnight. “There’s a lot of rumours flying around here,” the Optus guy said. Gee, that’s helpful.

Ultimately, these kind of annoyances go with the territory. Optus can’t control every idiot with a backhoe. But nor can it make me feel good by putting me on hold for half an hour and then sounding utterly clueless about when things will be fixed.

Until now, I haven’t felt any real productivity loss from working entirely on a single device and relying largely on a single connection. Optus pushed me over that line a little.

Ideally, I’d have Wi-Fi as a backup option in every hotel I stayed in, even if the charges were high. Again though, not much choice in Brisbane last night. At least in Adelaide, where I’m heading today, there’s the free Internode network in the CBD if Optus breaks again.

UPDATE: Just got this official explanation through Optus PR:

We had a fibre break on our coastal route between Sydney and Melbourne at Bateman’s Bay yesterday afternoon. As a result of this break, we had congestion in our core IP network which in turn caused congestion on links serving three of our Radio Network Controllers in Brisbane, impacting mobile data services in and around the Brisbane CBD. The fibre break was fixed at approximately midnight last night which was when your service was restored.

For the No Luggage experiment, Angus Kidman is doing his normal job while travelling Australia for a week with not much more than a BlackBerry. He did not expect this would mean getting up at 1am to approve comments.


  • There was a major fibre break, all of Australia affected. Some people have no connectivity whatsoever, others have slows, others unaffected… just FYI. I’m sure your location is fine, but there was a major technical f up.

  • Literally everytime there is an AFL game on at the Gabba, (just down the road from where you stayed) the data service kicks the bucket. An overload of users wanting to tweet/status/email how badly the Lions are playing would be my bet.

    Likely had a similar issue last night with Origin.

    • Umps BOG 4 GC 🙁 #gowild #aflsunslions

      Service is very patchy at the Gabba. Sometimes I get 3G with full bars, other times I’m lucky to get signal at all. Then again, I’m with 3, so that isn’t unique to the Gabba with 30,000+ people there (or more recently 15000-20000).

  • Dear Angus,
    The problem seems to be the saturation of the cells and happens when there is a lot of person at the same place at the same time (State of Origin or any concert at the Brisbane Entertainment center). I have no problem most of the time except when there is an event happening (iphone 4 on Optus in Brisbane). Yesterday afternoon, the reception was getting harder after 5PM, as people were coming in the city for the game.
    I don’t know if Telstra or other telco users had the same issue last night around the city.

    • The “origin factor” occurred to me, but Optus itself seemed to think other stuff was going on. I’m following up on this today.

  • That’s just the joys of optus. I have been a Optus for about 10yrs and past few years I have had and iPhone and then an iPad and I was continually plagued with dropouts and issues. I just transferred to Telstra and I have no issues at all. I hate how much more it costs for a reliable service but at the end of the day I guess you get what you have paid for.

    • I was on Optus for eleven years, for the most part it was pretty good, but when I moved to Brisbane it was awful, and I had a year to wait before my contract expired and I could switch to Telstra. I was skeptical about how much of an improvement it would be, so when I bought an iPad I keenly compared 3G signal levels between it and my iPhone, noting that any time the phone dropped out my Telstra 3G iPad was still at full strength. Since switching my phone the only issues I’ve had have been when calling people who are using Optus.

      Considering the (now) minimal increase in service charges to use Telstra, it’s clearly worth the extra. You should switch if you’re not in contract.

  • hahaha I hear your pain.
    Welcome to Brisbane and the awesomeness that is “the optus network”. It has been royally stuffed for past two to three days. Makes me sad to think that Adelaide is more advanced than us though.

  • Your experience with Optus in Brisbane isn’t uncommon, Angus. Work provided me with an iPhone 4 on Optus and its mobile data is quite simple atrocious.

    I keep it tethered via wifi to my Telstra mobile whenever possible, just so email works.

  • Next time you do this trip Angus you should try it with a Kindle.
    Free 3G Wireless (and it auto roams on to all 4 Networks including Next G, I’m almost never without *somebody’s* coverage), Sunlight readable, has a physical keyboard and a web browser.
    The web browser is pretty rudimentary, and the device is B/W only, but the 6″ Screen must make it more fun than your Blackberry.
    Oh, did I mention it goes about 1 week on a charge with the Wireless on the whole time?

    • It’s an interesting thought, but I suspect it’d be a lot harder to interface with our work publishing systems, and it wouldn’t offer the essential apps I ran through yesterday. Or a camera. And it wouldn’t fit in my pocket.

  • Yeah …. Regardless of the “Origin” of the issue I can tell you it’s a pain when you’re sitting with a client showing them clever “platform-agnostic cloud-based business applications” on an iPad and MacBook at the same time … Errrrr …. Blank screens …. Ummmm …. OK here’s a couple of screen grabs of what you might have seen if we were actually able to get online.


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