On this week’s episode of Your Tech Life, I took a call from a listener who was frustrated by his Optus coverage being patchy and struggling to even hold a data connection up for any decent length of time. Today, I spoke with Optus and got more details on a problem which it appears to have been caused by a minor network change, but one which could have been a lot worse than it has turned out if not acted on so promptly.

UPDATED: 7.30am 3/10/13 – Outage quantified by Optus

My caller Peter was having no end of issues, and his business relied on his Optus phones, in fact 9 of them. The phones – all iPhones would show 3G signal, then nothing – data would not be available – yet calls and texts were ok.

Peter, like many people today looked online and found several discussions, including one at Whirlpool which led him to think it may be related to his iPhone, or in fact the iOS 7 upgrade recently. However, as Peter points out, his problems started before the iOS upgrade. But, with all things these days the troops on the ground experiencing the issues can be fooled by themselves into thinking a problem is one thing when it is in fact something entirely different.

Today, Optus contacted Peter, they made an adjustment to his account and advised him to switch to airplane mode then back again. His problems have gone away.

An Optus spokesperson told EFTM; “A small number of Optus customers using 3G SIMs in 4G phones are currently having an issue. The issue affects access to 3G data when customers enter into a 4G area, but voice and text services are unaffected”.

“We believe the issue is due to a software upgrade to parts of our 4G network and has affected some customers on 4G phones in 4G areas of New South Wales and Queensland”.

“We are implementing a solution and hope to have it resolved in the next 24 hours”.

“Optus will work with customers on a case-by-case basis to address their concerns. If customers think they are affected by this issue, they can contact Optus on 13 13 44.”

In layman’s terms, what this really means is that someone at Optus made a change to their 4G network, and for those people with 4G handsets (but with a 3G enabled SIM cards) on the Optus 4G network they would be fine in 3G areas, but when they pop into a 4G area the phone would be confused and simply lose all access to data.

Our information which is confirmed by the Optus statement today, is that the problem was isolated to Sydney and some parts of regional NSW and possibly parts of QLD.

(3/10/13) Overnight work by Optus has determined that the issue is or was affecting several thousand customers, while others who had the correct SIM and configuration were successfully using both the 3G and 4G networks.

One emailer to me says:

“I have a Samsung Galasy S3 4G phone through Virgin. They use the Optus network.
Well my data connection keeps dropping out and has done so for the last week or so. I called Virgin and they told me to keep restarting the phone. Not ideal.
I’m expecting I am suffering from the same upgrade issue as you described in your article.”

This is in no way an issue related directly to iPhones, in fact any 4G phone may have experienced the issue.

EFTM can confirm that the issue is affecting both direct Optus and Optus MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) customers (Those with accounts through Virgin, Amaysim, TPG and others). The total number of affected users across both Optus and the MVNO’s is around 3000-4000.

Optus have told EFTM a wider fix has been installed across the network so all customers should now be ok in the next 24 hours. If you continue to have a problem after that, best to switch to Aiplane mode, then back to normal to allow your phone to properly re-attach to the network.

It seems all customers with 4G devices need to have their SIM enabled for 4G, Optus are contacting customers about this and arranging to “flick a switch” at the Optus end to properly enable 4G for their SIM as part of the solution to this problem.

Customers contacting Optus via social media are being told of the glitch, with no direct mention yet of a clear fix time:

This could have been a major issue for Optus. Every telco knows the pain Vodafone went through with their network woes – this is a a different situation entirely, but a day’s problem or a week’s problem or more – they are all the same to a user who just needs their service to do what it is meant to do.

If you’ve experienced similar problems – hit us in the comments or email me directly if things aren’t resolved for you.