Twenty years since the 3G mobile phone and data network was rolled out across Australia, it’s come to the end of its life-cycle.
From December, the major telcos will be switching off their 3G networks — Vodafone on December 15, then Telstra June 30, 2024, and finally Optus in September.
If you purchased your handset in the last few years, chances are you’re connected to the current-generation 5G network — even 4G handsets get the job done, only hitting the occasional mobile black spot.
But for those of us still walking around with early-2000s model phones and devices, you may be wondering what the change is going to mean for you and your less-than-current pieces of tech.
WHAT IS 3G?
The 3G mobile network is the third generation of global telecommunications networks.
Every 10 years or so a new generation is released, hence why 3G has since been replaced by 4G, and 4G was surpassed by the current 5G network — all dating back to the original analog 1G network dating back to the early 1980s.
If you want to get technical, 3G networks transfer information at a rate of at least 144 kilobits-per-second (kbit/s), 4G is 30 megabits-per-second (Mbit/s), and 5G is 50 Mbit/s.
5G started rolling out in 2019, so any 6G technology is still in its infancy.
As new technologies come online, the old networks are repurposed to help support the newer networks in a process called “re-farming.”
HOW MANY DEVICES STILL USE 3G?
Sales director with M2M Connectivity Anthony Petts in February told TelcoNews he estimates there are between two million and three million devices still reliant on the 3G network in Australia.
“The reality of the 3G shutdown is that once the signal is switched off, all 3G-based services and devices will cease to operate,” Mr Petts said.
“This includes flood monitoring systems in regional Australia, GPS systems on ambulances, ‘man down’ dongles in care homes, and even traffic signal systems.”
This means some businesses will need to transition before their telco of choice shuts off their 3G network.
But it also means millions of Australians who haven’t opted for a device upgrade in nearly two decades may finally have to bite the technological bullet and go for a new 5G device.
SHOULD I BE WORRIED?
Editor & Tech Commentator for EFTM.com, Trevor Long, says it shouldn’t worry anyone who’s bought a phone in the last five years or so.
“The bigger risk is to people with extremely old phones, which — despite 5G being five years old, and 4G being a decade more than that — don’t even connect to 4G,” Mr Long says.
So if you’re worried about your old flip phone, candybar phone, or first-gen smartphone, the best way to find out is contact the manufacturer directly.
The shutdown is likely most concerning to those using medical devices which still use the 3G network, with Mr Long saying it’s a big risk for “connected medical devices.”
“Not just because they might be old devices,” he says, “but even more recent devices sold just five years ago might not have had 4G capabilities.
“So there’s a risk people will think this doesn’t apply to them because they only got the device five years ago, yet in fact they might be left with a device that simply fails to work at the most important time in a year from now.”
Once again, the best thing to do is contact the manufacturer to see if your connected medical device is affected, and if they can offer an alternative.
WHAT ARE THE TELCOS SAYING?
Vodafone will be the first telco to shut down their 3G network. A page on their website has information for customers, and says these shutdowns have happened before, like when the 2G network was re-farmed.
“Vodafone’s licence to access 3G spectrum (the invisible electromagnetic frequencies that transmit mobile data) is set to expire in mid-2024,” reads a Vodafone statement.
“Although most customers rarely need to access 3G, we want to make sure customers have the appropriate notice and to offer support to those who need assistance.”
Australia’s largest telco, Telstra, shut down their 3G coverage on June 30.
“As customers move from 3G to take up the benefits of newer technology, we‘ll be repurposing the 850MHz spectrum, currently used to provide 3G coverage, to support our 5G rollout,” reads Telstra’s own information page concerning the shutdown.
But they also admit some wearable devices, like Apple Watch Series 3, 4, 5, Samsung Galaxy Watch, and Galaxy Watch Active2 may see a reduction in service areas.
And Optus follows suit in September 2024, going as far as to contact customers they believe will be affected by the 3G shutdown.
Your telco can also help if your transition away from 3G is as simple as changing some settings on your device, which will be the case in some instances.