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Telstra has suffered some pretty serious technical problems this year, and the “apology” has been to give its customers a day of free data, but is that really enough?

On Sunday, April 3, Telstra said sorry with a day of free data.

It was the second time the nation’s largest telco has needed to go on the defensive this year alone, and it’s only April, with the day of free data downloads acting as an apology for the company when the voice, text, and data services went down across Australia on March 17.

At the time, Telstra said it was sincerely sorry for the inconvenience, and “as a way of saying we’re sorry we’ll be providing a free data day for all of our mobile customers on Sunday 3 April”.

April 3 was yesterday, and from midnight Sunday until midnight this Monday morning, Telstra customers had a free-for-all.

“Over a 24 hour period, or 25 hours for those living in states where daylight savings ended, customers downloaded the most amount of data ever on our mobile network,” said Mike Wright, Group Managing Director of Networks at Telstra.

“By the end of Sunday, our customers had download 2,686 terabytes of data, which is 46% more than the amount downloaded on Free Data Day in 14 February, and equivalent to 3.4 million HD movies.”

But even though we’re all downloading a lot, the congestion was so dire that some had to wonder whether the free bandwidth was even worth the effort, or even worth the apology.

Back in February when the first day of free data began, we found that after 8 am — when people woke up — the speeds dropped significantly. From our count in Sydney, we found speeds close to 60-70Mbps (7 to 8MB per second) before people got up for that special Sunday, and more like 8 to 15Mbps (1 to 2MB per second) the moment everyone else was awake and taking advantage.

That wasn’t good, but it was at least something you could handle.

April 3, however, Telstra’s congestion was severe, and made any idea of a free data “apology” questionable for anything resembling the latter. Even getting that free data at the speeds on offer was made more difficult, especially if you were in a region that wasn’t performing well due to excess user congestion.

Tested throughout the day, we found speeds more like 4 to 12Mbps (0.5 to 1.5MB per second), which meant if you had any downloads you had planned to do, good luck. Even the idea of a day of free data with speeds like this could be laughed off, because while the data wasn’t going to cost you anything, it also wasn’t going to come down quickly.

And this led us to a more significant issue with Telstra’s day of free data, a day which constituted an apology for problems with the service: can a day where the network struggled to let you reach high speed downloads be technically called an apology if it causes distress for everyone else in much the same way as what provoked the apology to begin with?

At midnight, we found 35Mbps. It didn't last long.

At midnight, we found 35Mbps. It didn’t last long.

Let’s tackle the free data day woes from a different point of view: what if you didn’t care about April 3 being a day of free data?