3G is shutting down soon – here’s what you need to know

Telstra will shut down its 3G network this year.

Telstra will shut down its 3G network this year. Photo: AAP

In just a few months, telcos Telstra and Optus will shut down their 3G networks.

Already, Vodafone has closed down its 3G network in Australia, but soon the other telcos will be doing the same.

Telstra will be doing so on June 30 and Optus will follow suit in September.

By getting rid of the 3G network, people with devices that can only use 3G will not be able to connect to those networks or make calls from those devices.

There are a few things Telstra and Optus customers need to do before the shutdowns happen.

Why is 3G shutting down?

When asked why Vodafone shut down its 3G network, a spokesperson said getting rid of the old would make way for the new.

“The retirement of older network technologies like 3G is part of an important industry-wide move to provide customers with better speed and greater functionality with today’s modern smartphones and devices,” they said.

“Vodafone’s 3G network currently carries less than 1 per cent of the network’s total mobile data traffic today, with the rest carried over 4G and 5G.”

Telstra announced the shutdown back in 2019, and in 2021 reiterated moving away from 3G was a “big step in the evolution” of its network.

Optus said getting rid of 3G would allow it to “offer a better experience for our 4G services, as well as support the growth of 5G technology”.

Pictured is a 5G tower

Australian telcos says shutting down 3G networks will improve 4G and 5G coverage.

What do people need to do?

Telstra has said Voice over LTE (VoLTE) devices sold by Telstra after January 2019 will not require any action.

For mobile phones, the first thing people need to do is check that their devices are compatible with 4G or 5G.

Most modern devices have 3G and 4G capabilities, but if a device doesn’t then it is perhaps a good idea to upgrade.

If you are getting a new device, it is best to ensure you are getting one that is compatible with whatever telco you’re with.

It’s important to note, it’s not just mobile devices that will be affected. Telstra warned the following will also need checking:

  • Tablets
  • Mobile broadband modems
  • Smart watches and wearables
  • IoT and M2M devices
  • Repeaters and smart antennas
  • Medical alert devices
  • NextG Wireless Link.

Optus has said it is reaching out to customers they believe will be affected by the change later this year and are urging people who receive texts, emails or letters to update their devices.

 Telstra phones are seen outside the Telstra Melbourne headquarters on June 14, 2017 in Melbourne.

Some people will need to update their devices.

Will 3G devices be able to call triple zero?

When calling triple zero, mobile devices have special roaming capabilities, however, because multiple telcos are shutting down coverage, 3G devices will likely be limited even when calling emergency services.

“In instances where another carrier has 3G coverage, you may still be able to make a 000 call,” Telstra said.

“However, it’s important to note that other carriers are likewise closing their 3G network in similar time frames to Telstra.”

For this reason, there have been concerns about 3G being switched off.

Are there any concerns?

It’s estimated some 750,000 mobile phones may not be appropriately configured to contact emergency services on the 4G network, based on industry estimates.

The worry is many users may not realise their devices cannot dial triple zero as they will otherwise function normally for other voice calls and data.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the switchover could be delayed if a working group of telecommunications heavy hitters fails to iron out a technical glitch preventing some mobile phones from making emergency calls.

Last year, tech expert Trevor Long told Sky News, the biggest “risk” will be medical alarms.

“If you have elderly people in your life that have some sort of care alert alarm that will alert family or emergency responders, ring the manufacturer and find out if it’s 3G or 4G,” he said.

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