Outage highlights value of multi-carrier SIMs for smart energy devices

Stock image ex Canva to illustrate Wattwatchers blog post on Optus outage 8 Nov 2023

The hours-long, Australia-wide failure of the Optus telecommunications network today (November 8 2023) reinforces the strategic importance of making the right choices for communicating between the cloud and smart devices in homes and other buildings. It’s a key reason why Wattwatchers prefers multi-carrier SIMs with automatic roaming capabilities.

Like millions of Australians, when the Wattwatchers team woke up this morning to a major national outage for the Optus network, we immediately thought: Are we off the air?

Unlike most everyday telco customers, however, Wattwatchers has a fleet of tens of thousands of our smart, cellular-communicating energy IoT devices operating across Australia.

So we weren’t just thinking about our own mobile phone, landline or Optus internet service – although several members of our team were impacted as well.

‘Living lab’

The Wattwatchers fleet includes a range of different SIMs, which are embedded in our devices at our factory. Across our whole fleet, including major customers which historically selected their own SIM providers, there are different network carriers (including Optus-only, Telstra-only and multi-carrier roaming), and different telecommunications and Internet of Things (IoT) service providers.

This means that when today’s national outage struck, our fleet became a real-time ‘living lab’ for what was unfolding.

Key observations from our team include:

  • Our preferred multi-carrier roaming SIMs, sourced from Soracom and provided to Wattwatchers by Thinxtra in Australia, worked as expected in most if not all cases. In Australia, the multi-carrier SIMs select the strongest signal available at the location where they are installed, from a choice of either Optus or Telstra. When Optus became unavailable, we could see that affected devices migrated automatically to the Telstra network (where it was available with adequate signal strength).
  • We could track the Optus network coming back online early this afternoon via devices with Optus-only coverage, as Wattwatchers devices reconnected as the Optus signal was restored progressively. By about 1.40pm, we saw a 50 percent reduction in devices with Optus-only SIMs being offline, compared with 9am in the morning. By 3pm most of the Optus-reliant fleet had been restored, although the actual cause of the outage remained unexplained.

Connectivity is vital

Our multi-carrier SIM partner Thinxtra had this to say about today’s outage event: As today’s major telco outage in Australia demonstrates, connectivity can have a major impact on so many different businesses and organisations. When it comes to devices deployed at scale, such as payment terminals, ATMs, life saving medical equipment etc connectivity should be uninterrupted so you can focus on what really matters – delivering the best customer service possible and growing your business, or in the health sector, most importantly saving lives.

We would add that connectivity is critical for smart energy services too.

According to Wattwatchers CEO Gavin Dietz, secure and reliable telecommunications connectivity is vital for the clean energy transition and electrification, especially for managing customer-owned resources like rooftop solar systems and EV charging at the grid-edge.

‘Establishing and maintaining communications uplinks to the cloud is a key challenge for the smart, distributed, affordable electricity system of the near future, especially if we want homes and other buildings to interact with the grid, reliably and in real-time,’ said Dietz.

‘Today’s major unplanned outage, which by definition took everyone by surprise, is a great reminder that we can anticipate systemic failures and head them off by making smart choices, such as using multi-carrier SIMs with global roaming built-in.’

Over the days ahead we will continue to monitor the Wattwatchers fleet for any signs that today’s outage has resulted in any ‘aftershocks’ for our services to partners and customers.

We’d welcome reports from Wattwatchers customers who’ve experienced issues that could be related to the outage event. Please contact us via our Support email support@wattwatchers.com.au and include “Optus outage’ in the subject line.

FOOTNOTE: When Wattwatchers devices lose their cellular network connection, as happened with some devices in today’s outage event because they have Optus-only coverage, they continue to log 5-minute energy data in the device (for up to 25 days, even though most telco outages are resolved within hours). When the carrier signal returns and the devices automatically reconnect, the stored data ‘catches up’ with the server – usually within several hours – and the key 5-minute data is not lost.