19 March 2024

Industry working group to manage transition away from 3G mobile services

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Some 4G handsets will be affected. Photo: AMTA.

With the impending closure of 3G mobile networks in Australia carried through telcos Telstra and Optus, the Federal Government has announced the establishment of an industry working group to help manage the transition.

The switchover from 3G was announced in 2019, with more bandwidth and greater coverage being available on later 4G and newer 5G networks.

To this end, the working group will focus on a subset of 4G handsets configured by the manufacturer to use 3G for calling triple zero, despite otherwise working over 4G to make normal voice calls.

The working group will comprise Telstra, Optus and TPG, and peak industry body the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), while the Federal Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts will have observer status.

The government says it is concerned customers in possession of some 4G handsets might believe their device is unaffected by the switchover because the handset might operate normally for voice and data, except when trying to call triple zero.

Carrier TPG closed its 3G network on 30 January, while Telstra plans to shut down its 3G network on 30 June, and Optus will follow from 1 September.

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Mobile network operators believe up to 740,000 handsets could be impacted by the switchovers but add that further work is needed by the working group to validate the scope of these estimates.

Industry will advise customers with some older 4G phones, devices purchased overseas and brought into Australia, or those purchased via the grey market that their handsets may not be appropriately configured to make emergency calls following the switchover.

An AMTA fact sheet provides a list of those devices affected and other information, while customers should contact their telco if in any doubt.

TPG is the main carrier for brands such as Felix Mobile, iiNet, Internode, Kogan Mobile, Lebara Mobile, and Vodafone.

Telstra carries brands including ALDO Mobile, Belong, Boost Mobile, Exetel, Lycamobile, MATE, More, numobile, Superloop, Tangerine Mobile, and Woolworths Mobile.

The Optus network carries brands including amaysim, Aussie Broadband, Catch Connect, Circles Life, Coles Mobile, Dodo, iPrimus, Moose Mobile, Southern Phone, SpinTel, and Yomojo.

Handsets that may be affected include Apple iPhone 5S or earlier, Samsung Galaxy S5 or earlier, Google Pixel 2 XL, and Apple iPad mini 3 or earlier.

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Some wearable devices such as Apple Watch Series 5 or earlier and Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 or earlier may also be affected.

Additionally, some 3G EFTPOS terminals won’t be able to process transactions once the 3G networks are switched off.

Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said the continued support of Australians’ access to triple zero was critical.

“While the government supports the safe switchover from 3G, it is important Australians are aware that some devices in the mobile market are not appropriately configured to contact emergency services on the 4G network,” she said.

“This new working group will ensure industry better coordinates efforts to identify and contact impacted customers, improves the accessibility of public-facing information and contact points, and provide regular advice to government on the number of potentially affected devices and customers in the market.

“The government will continue to monitor this issue closely and consider options under law if warranted in the public interest,” she added.

“I would encourage Australians who think their device may be impacted to reach out to their service provider for more information.”

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