2019 was a big year for Australian telcos and for the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN). We saw many fines, lawsuits, M&A activity and network outages in the past year.
CRN has compiled a list of the top news stories on Australia's major telecommunications companies and the NBN in this slideshow.
Click the navigation arrows on each photo or use the arrow keys on your keyboard to scroll through our list.
TPG scraps mobile network build due to Huawei ban
TPG pulled the plug on its planned mobile network due to the government's ban on using Huawei equipment to build 5G networks, preventing the network from being upgraded.
The telco announced its plan to build Australia's fourth mobile network in April 2017, already forking hundreds of millions of dollars in the design and implementation process which was based on small cell architecture from Huawei.
TPG said a key reason it selected Huawei for its network was because its technology had a simple upgrade path to 5G.
Telstra speeds up job cuts, 6000 gone by end of FY19
Telstra sped up its next round of job cuts by bringing forward $200 million in restructuring costs into the current financial year.
The telco said it made the decision "as a result of good progress on T22", which will see up to 9500 jobs slashed over three years as part of its efforts to plug a $3 billion earnings hole left in the wake of the NBN's construction.
Telstra, CEPU sign new enterprise agreement after more than a year of negotiations
From mid-2018 to December 2019
Tensions between the Communications Electrical Plumbing Union (CEPU) and Telstra stemming from the Telstra2022 strategy spilled over to 2019, with negotiations finally concluded on 10 December when both parties reached a new enterprise agreement.
Telstra, Optus, TPG, and NBN Sky Muster reveal network outages
Australian telcos had their own share of network outages in 2019, ranging from widespread wobbles that lasted days to smaller hiccups here and there. Here are some of the noteworthy ones from the past 12 months:
One of the co-founders of telecommunications service provider Over The Wire sued his fellow co-founders, claiming they hid plans to float the company until he sold off his shares.
David Tisdall was one of the co-founders of Over The Wire's predecessor Impirical Pty Ltd in 2011, holding a 35 percent stake in the company.
Tisdall sold his Impirical shares to co-founders Michael Omeros and Brent Paddon for $2.4 million in May 2015, according to his claim in the Brisbane Supreme Court. Seven months later, Impirical listed on the ASX as Over The Wire. The company now has a market capitalisation of close to $240 million.
Optus slapped with $10 million fine over third-party bills
Optus was fined $10 million by the Federal Court for charging customers for services from third parties without their knowledge via its controversial direct carrier billing service.
Direct billing services allow third parties to sell games, ringtones and other digital content and bill customers directly to their phone bill, often without the customer's knowledge or consent.
Optus received over 600,000 enquiries from customers about the service but failed to implement appropriate identity safeguards. According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) purchases could be made with just one or two clicks from a web browser in some instances.
Vocus made the decision to step back from its consumer NBN businesses in favour of its renewed focus on wireless and mobile services.
The company said in its half-year results that competing in the consumer NBN market was "economically unattractive" and that the variable nature of NBN's pricing model was incompatible with fixed prices that customers are used to.
As a result, Vocus no longer intends to grow its NBN customer base, and will instead focus on optimising its experience for existing broadband customers. In particular, the company said there was "no profit margin after the costs to migrate, acquire and service, together with backhaul and other admin and operational costs."
Telstra, Optus, Vodafone allegedly employed aggressive sales tactics: consumer group
Telstra, Optus and Vodafone allegedly encouraged their customer service representatives to put sales targets above service.
A report from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network claimed that this often resulted in questionable selling practices, such as being sold plans or products more expensive than expected or that were unaffordable.
ACCAN interviewed 30 former employees from three telcos, which revealed financial incentive systems built around sales targets.
Labor’s NBN policy calls for re-wiring of 750,000 homes
The Australian Labor Party (ALP) launched a new National Broadband Network (NBN) policy, with the headline item being a pledge to re-wire 750,000 homes using fibre-to-the-node connections.
Labor’s advanced that plan because doing so will “Improve speeds and reliability” for those homes. The policy calls for NBN Co to do the re-wiring work at no cost to households, and says “This will reduce dropouts and improve speeds for broadband services in up to 750,000 Fibre to the Node households.”
CRN Editorial Director Simon Sharwood broke down Labor's plan in a separate piece, saying the party had been "backed into a place at which it has to be crazy brave to differentiate itself."
Telstra, TPG, Vocus and Optus say they aren't an NBN bottleneck
Telstra and Vocus, who are among a handful of telcos that supply dark fibre or backhaul services to and from NBN points of interconnect, said their services are not a bottleneck to the NBN user experience, and that any bottleneck sits with NBN Co itself.
Four telcos - Telstra, TPG, Optus and Vocus - responded earlier this week to a proposal by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to impose a data collection exercise on the industry - known as a record keeping rule or RKR.
The proposed data collection would require industry players to submit detailed data regularly on connections they maintained to NBN points of interconnect (PoI), where access seekers such as retail services providers connect.
The ACCC knocked back the proposed merger between TPG and Vodafone.
The watchdog was scheduled to announce its ruling on Thursday, but inadvertently published the decision on its mergers register today.
The two telcos announced their intention to merge in August 2018, under a plan that would have created a $15 billion entity and created a combined company capable of more comfortably competing with market leaders Telstra and Optus.
Officeworks launched a mobile virtual network, using the Optus 4G network.
“accord mobile by Officeworks”* offers half a dozen plans, all month-to-month affairs without ongoing contracts.
The three voice and data deals all offer unlimited calls and SMS, with the basic product offering 3GB of data for $15 a month. $25 buys 10GB and $45 of international calls while $45 buys 30GB and $450 of international calls. It won’t be hard to burn through those international allowances: accord’s price list lists rates of more than a dollar a minute for many nations.
Telstra offered 272,000 refunds for premium content
Telstra made refund offers to 272,397 customers as a result of the third-party content subscription billing scandal of 2018, although only a quarter claimed the cash.
The number was revealed in a series of confidential progress reports provided by Telstra to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that were released under freedom of information (FOI).
The Federal Court penalised Telstra $10 million back in April 2018 and also ordered the telco reimburse customers charged for third-party content - such as games or apps - that they often could not recall subscribing to and then could not unsubscribe from.
NBN Co asks RSPs to help develop new wholesale price plans
NBN Co revealed a wholesale pricing review.
Chief customer officer for residential, Brad Whitcomb, said the aim of the review is to collaboratively “develop new NBN wholesale price and discount options and bundle discount inclusions”.
A consultation paper was sent to “more than 50 retail service providers (RSPs) selling NBN plans to residential and business customers, and special interest groups such as ACCAN”, NBN Co said in a statement.
Just two days after fining Optus for misleading customers about needing to transition to the NBN, watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) sued the telco for doing it again.
The ACCC claims on May 24th 2018 Optus sent an email advertising NBN broadband services to 139,000 of its mobile customers, telling them that their broadband service would be “disconnected very soon” and to “make the switch, before it’s too late.”
The watchdog claims those messages were false or misleading as Optus knew when the emails were sent that the recipients were already serviced by a different NBN supplier, and that Optus had no reasonable basis to assert that their services would be disconnected.
Vodafone becomes latest telco to refund customers over unexpected bills
Vodafone was also hit with action over its direct carrier billing service which unknowingly charged customers for digital products.
Direct billing services (DCB) allow third parties to sell digital content like games and ringtones and charge customers directly to their phone bill, often without their knowledge or consent. In Vodafone’s case, DCBs were automatically enabled on customer accounts, meaning purchases could be made with just one or two unwitting clicks.
The telco admitted it likely breached the ASIC Act by charging customers for products they hadn’t agreed to purchase, and will contact and refund affected customers.
Telstra warns of network cost rises if NSW plan proceeds
Telstra warned the cost of operating its mobile networks will rise if a draft plan by NSW to raise rents levied on telcos proceeds.
Mike Packett, national transactions manager in Telstra’s global business services group, told a NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) inquiry last week that NSW’ plans were already fanning out to other states and local councils.
IPART has proposed to tie rents for towers and other infrastructure hosted on Crown land to prices paid by telcos to private landowners.
Macquarie Telecom scoops landmark Apple reseller deal
Macquarie Telecom reached a deal with Apple to resell its mobile devices and deploy mobility solutions for mid-market businesses.
As part of the deal, the telco will offer “bespoke” and off-the-shelf iOS apps for business, along with iPhones and iPads. Ingram Micro will also be part of the deal, managing the hardware distribution for MacTel.
In a statement issued today, Macquarie Telecom group executive Luke Clifton said, “This offering will help mid-sized businesses in Australia experience the power and value of Apple.”
Telstra Enterprise, InfraCo remain only growing segments
Telstra’s enterprise business just barely hung on to its status as one of the telco’s only two growing market segments.
Telstra Enterprise, which includes mobile services, data & IP, and its shining network applications and services (NAS) business, remained steady with $8.24 billion in revenue for the financial year to 30 June 2019, growing just one third of a percent.
The company announced in an ASX release that Telstra Enterprise now uses Salesforce as its single sales portal, leading to a 27 percent increase in sales pipeline in the past 12 months.
Network provider Superloop exited its cloud managed services segment due to declining performance.
In its FY19 results, the company revealed that non-core, non-broadband services had been retired and that customers were migrated to partner providers. Other services like cybersecurity were excluded.
Superloop’s cloud managed services unit was established with its 2016 acquisition of wireless and IT services provider BigAir, with chief executive Jason Ashton running the segment before his departure in July 2018.
NBN Co to slash wholesale prices, CVC is here to stay
NBN Co bowed to pressure from retail service providers (RSPs) by slashing prices on its wholesale bundles and proposing three new high-speed tiers.
The discounts, detailed in a new Pricing Consultation Paper released today, followed 12 weeks of consultation with more than 50 RSPs and industry groups. The changes are still subject to industry consultation, though CRN can’t imagine many RSPs will be upset with cheaper wholesale prices!
NBN Co doesn’t intend to scrap the much maligned CVC (connectivity virtual circuit) charges for offloading traffic from the NBN to the RSP’s network. Instead, NBN Co plans on increasing capacity across most of its bundles with no additional charge, and will increase it again in 2020 and 2021.
NBN Co to cop bigger fines for missed appointments, network congestion
NBN Co could face even steeper penalties for late or delayed connections, or for slow fault fixes under a new proposal by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
The consumer watchdog suggested the network builder be fined $13.50 per business day for late or delayed connections to the network, capped at $270. For slow fault fixes, NBN Co would be charged up to $30 per business day, capped at $1150.
In addition to the fines, the rebate available when technicians miss appointments would be bumped from $25 to $75, which must be passed on to the customer.
Telstra announced that it will turn off its 3G network in June 2024.
The carrier this morning popped out a statement in which it says “we occasionally come to a point where it is necessary to say goodbye to older technology and to use the spectrum it was carried on to boost the performance of newer and more efficient technology.”
And that means the “eventual switch-off of our 3G technology” by “June 2024 – more than four years away.”
NBN Co slapped for giving preferential treatment to MacTel
NBN Co gave a formal warning over discriminating between retail service providers by providing information to Macquarie Telecom, but not other carriers.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found that from as early as January 2018, the network operator offered “materially different” commercial terms to different RSPs when upgrading its infrastructure to support business-grade services
But MacTel was also given indicative pricing information for its new enterprise Ethernet service months before the information was given out to other RSPs, as the ACCC explains in its formal warning to NBN Co.
TPG emerges victorious against ACCC in "prepayment" charges lawsuit
The Federal Court of Australia ruled in favour of TPG Telecom in a lawsuit filed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) over misleading conduct claims related to a “prepayment” charge.
Justice David O'Callaghan ruled that the telco did not unfairly charge customers a non-refundable bond, according to a report by The Australian Associated Press.
"TPG has shown that the forfeiture term is reasonably necessary to protect its legitimate interests," O'Callaghan’s judgement read.
NBN Co started offering business-grade wholesale broadband from its SkyMuster satellite to enterprise and government customers in regional areas.
The network owner said that its services will initially focus on remote customers that require high-data internet access and IoT use cases, such as mining and resources, oil and gas, emergency services, forestry, construction, education, agriculture, tourism and health.
NBN Co responded to the review of wholesale pricing urged by retail service providers (RSPs) by significantly changing pricing.
The network builder-and-operator has made two main changes.
One is to allow national pooling of connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) charges, the mechanism NBN Co uses to charge for bandwidth consumed by RSPs. Today, RSPs can pool CVC capacity in areas associated with one of NBN Co’s 121 Points of Interconnection (POIs).
The federal government reintroduced long-delayed legislation for a broadband tax on non-NBN operated fixed line services, which it hopes will be in place from 1 July 2020.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher reintroduced the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2019 “without notice” in parliament this morning after the government’s former bill automatically lapsed at the close of the last parliament in April.
The bill, which was introduced alongside another complementary bill to establish NBN Co as the new default fixed-line operator in Australia, will see residential and business users of "NBN-equivalent" fixed line services hit with a monthly fee of $7.10.