Bushfires: Power biggest issue for Telstra as it works to keep services online

Telco’s ability to refuel generators and replace batteries keeping telecommunications sites online depends on it getting the all-clear from fire authorities

Temporary Telstra infrastructure at Corryong.
Telstra

Telstra says it is making every resource it can available to address the impact of bushfires on telecommunications in regional parts of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

As of 5pm on Friday, 15 of the telco’s sites in New South Wales were affected, including five mobile towers suffering fire damage. There is also damage to the telco’s radio and transmission site at Mount Mittamatite in Victoria. In South Australia, Telstra’s Mount Torrens site has been “severely damaged,” but mobile sites on Kangaroo Island have been restored.

The telco says that it is facing a dynamic situation, which means service availability can change rapidly and that its ability to remediate damaged infrastructure can be affected by changes in fire conditions.

The biggest impact on services has been interruptions to mains power. Most of Telstra’s 40,000 network sites have some form of battery backup or generator to deal with power outages, but the telco has warned that event its largest capacity batteries could run-down during extended mains outages. The company is only able to refuel generators and replace batteries when given the all-clear by fire authorities.

Telstra has been working with emergency services on reconnecting fire-affected communities, as well as the Australian Defence Force, which has provided logistical support as well as aerial imagery to help assess sites.

Telstra has deployed a range of solutions including cells on wheels and satellite phones to help provide telecommunications while it works to restore regular services. Along with other major telcos it is also offering a range of hardship measures for its customers (including waiving the mobile bills of volunteer firefighters)

NBN Co said that as of the afternoon of 11 January, all of its services across NSW and Victoria were operational, though the network operator did have to deal with a generator fire earlier that day.

NBN Co has been using its Sky Muster satellite service to power free Wi-Fi services at more than two dozen evacuation centres.

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