Want to send an SMS to a friend overseas? Don’t bother – they just don’t get through on Telstra’s network. But Telstra won’t tell you about it.

In defence of Telstra

As a current UK resident and someone who has been involved in developing web-based SMS applications, I have some insight into the area of inbound international SMS to the UK.

While no fan of lumbering telecom monopolies like Telstra, the problem you described regarding SMS from Australia to the UK is caused by the UK based networks, not Telstra.

SMS has turned out to be a massive cash-cow for the 4 incumbent UK mobile networks, and has gone some way to offsetting declining voice revenues and ARPUs in general.

More than a year ago, the Mobile operators discovered that they were getting “arbitraged”.

Due to the exorbitant prices they charged to large users of SMS in the UK, they were losing this “bulk” SMS traffic to offshore telecom operators who were offering very cheap deals to win business. Swiss Telecom (itself a big monopoly) was a big player in this, as well as other European and overseas telcos including Telstra.

The solution that the UK networks came up with was to effectively “block” SMS messages originating from numerous overseas countries. As the sender of a bulk SMS can very often only get paid if they can confirm a message has been delivered, they were able to pretty much stop the practice and thus protect a lucrative business from competition.

OFTEL (the UK telco regulator) have turned a blind eye to them imposing this service restriction, as the UK mobile operators are currently bleeding from every orifice due to the billions spanked on buying overpriced 3G licenses from HM Treasury.


Name withheld”

CRIKEY: While this testimony might help get Telstra off the hook as far as the UK is concerned, it doesn’t explain its problems in other countries, although perhaps they suffer from the blockage as this correspondent has pointed out exist in the UK. And in any event, surely Telstra would be aware by now of this non-deliver problem? If so, it is surely incumbent upon them to alert their customers so they aren’t engaging in a futile exercise in trying to send messages which can’t be received?

And here is our original yarn, along with your contributions…

Got a friend or rellie overseas?

Want to call them but hate the cost and inconvenience of dialling up and getting their answering machine?

Never fear, the problem is easily and cheaply solved – send them an SMS first of all and confirm their availability!

Well, it would be easily solved, if not for our very good friends at Telstra apparently not allowing SMSs to be sent overseas.

We took up the yarn in our subscriber email of 9 August:


This one was forwarded on by a Fairfax hack. A desperate cry from a Telstra customer, apparently, which probably smells a little too much of a “loopy conspiracy theory” based on this evidence for the big news outlets to pick it up.

But we’re not afraid to give it a run and ask if anyone else has experienced similar troubles:

“Up until Christmas of last year I was able to SMS my family in the UK – which is often very helpful in determining the best time to call each other due to time delay etc.

As of this year NONE of the messages which I have sent from my (have tried other phones so it is not just my phone) Telstra phone reach my family who have Orange Network phones. My phone says they are sent and they are not returned – however they are not received on the other end. And of course I am charged for them! I am still able to received messages from my family.

I have SMS’d a Vodafone network phone in the UK and the message gets through.

I inquired with Telstra what the problem was etc etc – on both occasions I have been told there is no problem but that international SMS messages cannot be guaranteed.. I queried this and said BUT NONE of the messages have been getting through. 100% failure rate seems a bit extreme.

I asked my mother to ask Orange in the UK as I thought perhaps it is a problem her end. She has phoned them twice and the operators have read from their info screens and advised that Orange has a billing problem / issue with Telstra and will not allow the SMS messages through until it is resolved.

The lady told my mother that the issue related to spamming text message which was blocking lines getting through so they had stopped their usage.

Now I do not know how accurate / correct the above is but when I have mentioned the above details to Telstra, the international roaming man I spoke to a couple of months ago laughed and said that that was ridiculous and reiterated the fact that international SMS cannot be guaranteed.

I am writing to you as I thought perhaps you can uncover the truth. If there is some problem, Telstra should advise its customers instead of charging them for messages they know do not go through. (I have been credited for my messages because I complained.)

I do not use my phone for much apart from communicating with my family and it is greatly annoying to know that I could have signed up with Vodafone or Orange and wouldn’t have this problem which I am stuck with till the end of my phone contract.

CRIKEY: This does sound a bit odd. We might see if we can run this by some people at Telstra and get their spin on it.”

– Ends –

As our comments on this email suggest, we were a bit sceptical about these claims, but it didn’t take long for a couple of emails to come in which confirm this SMS user’s experiences:

“Yes I have had exactly the same experience over the past 4 weeks – attempts at sending SMS messages to the UK failing at every turn.

Not wanting to wake my travelling daughters before 1pm each day, I have tried SMS – it has failed 100% of the time – 10 times in past month to 2 different mobile numbers in the UK.

Until reading your letter/report on another’s experience, I was being seduced into continuing to try SMS because outward telephone calls to the UK from the same mobile phone in Melbourne to the same UK mobile phones connected without problem – I thought the non-connecting SMS problem must be a matter of time-of-day!

I have been a strong supporter of Telstra (including its privatisation) and if there has been a conscious decision to block SMS messages then that I can understand it could be a matter for commercial decision/discussion, but if there has been a conscious decision to introduce such a block-SMS-policy and at the same time to misinform users (‘number not available’ etc) then I will be more than grossly offended at any such deceit and the consequent frustration and time-wasting in trying to connect.

Please respond Telstra.”

– Ends –

And we also received this:

Hi Stephen,

Telstra also appears to block SMS messages to the Netherlands now. Last year I was able to receive SMSs from Telstra phones in Australia on my Dutch Libertel / Vodafone phone, but now all SMS messages that I’ve been told that I have been sent, simply do not arrive.

So much for global networks.

As someone who administers the systems of an ISP with over 1 million customers and is aware of the issues involved with large-scale messaging (albeit email, not SMS), I find it very hard to believe that the rate that SMS messages go missing need be as high as it is.



– Ends –

CRIKEY: So it seems there is substance to our initial report, after all. Over to you, our very good friends at Telstra.

Your feedback: same issue with NZ

Hi Crikey,

The same problem exists with SMS to New Zealand via Optus mobile. No message gets through, but I have noticed no notification the service is non-existent. And it seems the Optus SMS service to the UK was cut off a few weeks back as well.

A couple of other wheezes are worth noting as well.

You can save money on international calls using prepaid call cards, sold by news agents and convenience stores in many cities. The quality of the call varies, but at 5 cents a minute or so, who minds? SuperSaver have been pretty good, for example.

However, K Card has been a problem. The company suddenly stopped operating calls at the beginning of July. The customer service number was apparently disconnected as well. Distributors were told service would be resumed around 24 July after ‘mechanical’ problems were sorted out. Then they were sent a fax saying it would be restored on the 8th of August.

Distributors were not impressed that the company cut off the service, just after they were loaded up with prepaid cards. The local newsagent says he has $20,000 of dud cards. Customers are entitled to claim their card cost from the shops (according to the bored call centre lady at the ACCC) , but I don’t like the shop keepers’ chances of getting their money back from the distributors.

One retailer gave me the only contact they had to the company – a mobile phone number for a local rep. I called and had a conversation with a foreign gentleman, who assured me the ‘technical problem’ would be ‘resolved soon’. No luck since then though, so I am currently $50 out of pocket. Not to worry – I will get a refund from the shop, or a reversal of the credit card charge if the retailer is not cooperative. How many other card callers are out of pocket though?

The other interesting twist is if you use a cheaper local call, in my case through DigiPlus. They offer cheaper local calls, but for international calls I use the call card (it saves a lot in a business day).

The trouble is, if I try and ring a call card local number (to start an international call using a discount, prepaid call card) the message on their connection is always ‘ line busy, try again later.’ Spend a few more cents dialling the local number through Telstra rather than DigiPlus, and the line is miraculously free. Could it be DigiPlus are blocking calls that might bleed away toll revenue?

Cheers, Cardsharp

Worked fine for me in the US

I was in the United States and Canada for 4 weeks last May/June. I had no problems with Text Messaging as it called in those countries to and from Australia. I even got three text messages to tell me to call 101 these callers left messages in my Telstra combined messagebank (fixed/mobile in one). I responded to these calls by dialling my mobile no in OZ with the country code of course.

Maybe Crikey subscribers who work at Telstra should pass all this correspondence onto the person who can check it out. It’s a laugh if one cannot send/receive text messages (oops SMS) when outside OZ. Defeats the purpose having all this electronic wizardry when some nickimpoop(s) allegedly bar(s) it!


No access to the Netherlands

Hey Stephen,

personal experience of a freebie Alertee: I can confirm that Telstra SMSs are no longer delivered to the Netherlands. Although my colleague in Amsterdam has successfully sent my phone SMSs whether I am in Oz or in Europe, he waits in vain for messages from my phone to his (messages for which I have of course been charged…)

Keep your fists up, especially where Eddie is concerned!


SMS to Germany go through OK

“Hi Stephen and co.

Re: the piece on SMSs not getting through. I use a Telstra mobile and up until a few weeks ago was sending and receiving semi-regular SMS messages to a friend travelling through Germany (only stopped because she came home). I got replies from them, so as far as I know, they all got through. Whether that’s because I was messaging to Germany and not the UK or because she’s on a network other than Orange, I have no idea.


Three-way SMS bounce worked fine

Dear Stephen

I was in NZ last week with a friend from the UK and all our messages to each other were successful even though they were being sent to our mobile Nos in the UK and Australia and then back to NZ.

The messages were being sent and received almost immediately. Very handy for keeping in touch whilst skiing at Mt Ruapahu.