Yesterday, Telstra gave its mobile customers a day of free 4G data by way of apology for a widespread outage that brought down its mobile phone network. That free data day itself slowed things to a crawl for plenty of users, but at least the network didn't die again.
The last "free data day" saw 1841 terabytes of data transferred across the Telstra network, but that number pales in comparison to yesterday's usage. People were prepared for their freebie day — and with their tethered torrents, PlayStation Network downloads, Steam library overhauls, Spotify catalogue syncs and Windows updates, Australia's Telstra customers managed 2686 terabytes' usage on Sunday 3 April.
That's equivalent, says Telstra, to 3.4 million HD movies — one for every three Telstra mobile customers. Even early in the morning, though, it was clear that Telstra's network was suffering under the strain of massively distributed and continuous downloads. In areas that usually enjoy 200Mbps-plus network download speeds over 4G, like Sydney's CBD, customers complained on Facebook and Twitter about slow downloads. We saw Speedtest.net results of 6Mbps down and 1Mbps up in a location that usually clocks 240Mbps/40Mbps.
Telstr says there were a few "hot spots", where users downloading large caches of data caused localised congestion. Although considering the theoretical 4G throughput of a single cell tower, it's likely that there were more than just a few. "We’re glad to see that our customers have been able to access free data all day on Sunday. We are also glad to see the underlying strength of the network demonstrated despite a few hot spots where heavy users caused localised congestion. Overall, the majority of customers continued to experience a reliable level of service, and we look forward to continuing to provide this well into the future."
The fact that the network strained — but did not break — on a day where 2686 terabytes of data was downloaded, a day that saw 46 per cent more download and upload traffic than the network's previous busiest day ever, is a testament to Telstra's network management. The network itself is not the issue; if you believe Telstra, all three recent outages were due to human error. If Telstra can prevent those human issues from occurring again — not likely, but this year has been uncharacteristically bad for the telco — it will be plain sailing again soon.