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Update urgency: 3G switch-off looms

Thousands of mobile phones will stop working soon, and up to half a million Australians may lose the ability to dial 000. Don’t get caught out.

It’s a case of out with the old, in with the new as Australia’s mobile communications landscape transforms. 

The good news is that newer technology promises better phone reception and faster internet. The bad news is that a lot of people still haven’t made the switch, and some Australians may lose access to a mobile phone service altogether. 

If you have a phone that works on the 3G network, you will soon be unable to make or receive calls – including emergency calls. Even some older 4G devices may stop working. 

The TPG/Vodafone 3G service has already closed, Telstra (which has extended its deadline) has set a final closure date of 31 August, and the Optus service will be shut in September. 

All other providers use one of those three networks, so no matter who your 3G contract is with, time’s nearly up.  

Concerns have also been raised about some early model 4G phones that do not support 4G Voice over LTE (VoLTE) calling, which may not be able to access emergency phone numbers. 

The reason for the closure is simple: demand for 3G services has dropped because most Australians have upgraded to the 4G LTE and 5G networks, and the service providers want to use the radio frequency occupied by 3G for their new products. 

According to government data, only 2% of all mobile services in Australia in 2023 used 3G, while 63% used 4G, and 85% used 5G. 

According to Telstra, 3G technology is no longer fit for purpose. 

“When 3G was launched back in 2006, Australians used their mobile devices for calls, texting and accessing basic information online,” the company said. 

“Today, demand for mobile data is growing by 30% each year and, as consumers’ technology and use cases change, they need a network that’s fit for today and the future.” 

Will it affect you?

Although the deadline is looming, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Australians have yet to make the switch to 4G or better devices. 

The problem with the switch-off is that the effects of the closure will be disproportionate. It will put a burden on: 

  • People with low incomes who will struggle to replace their handsets and SIM card and buy a new plan 

  • People with devices other than mobile phones – including essential medical and business equipment – that operate over the 3G network 

  • Those who live in remote areas where they may not be able to receive a 4G or 5G service. 

When The Guardian recently spoke to people in the Riverina district of New South Wales, some said they struggled to get a 3G signal and were concerned that they may not be able to access the 4G network. 

“Local mobile towers are regularly congested,” one said. “The available bandwidth gets used up quickly, slowing speeds to barely usable.” 

However, Telstra has insisted that all its customers will get equal or better coverage if they upgrade. 

“Your network experience should improve, and in most cases, you’ll notice a substantial improvement in speeds when you move from 3G only coverage to 4G coverage,” the company said. 

“Our 4G service accesses greater bandwidths and is more efficient than 3G, leading to higher end user speeds.” 

Not just phones

It’s not just phones, it affects some home alarm systems and business technology, including agricultural machinery that is connected to the internet. 

Farmer Stacey Storrier told The Guardian she has had to purchase new equipment, including technology that prevents remote water troughs for cattle from overflowing. 

If you have a personal alert system, you should have already heard from your service provider regarding its compatibility with 4G or 5G. 

If you haven’t heard, contact the supplier now. 

The ABC has a list of mobile phone models most likely to be affected by the 3G network closure here

Telstra and Optus both allow customers to check the status of their device by texting “3” to the number 3498. 


Related reading: 3G Closure, Optus, Telstra, The Guardian, SBS  

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Brett Debritz

Brett Debritz

Communications Specialist, National Seniors Australia

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