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Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

The federal government has jumped to action half way through the shutdown of the 3G network, with Communication Minister Michelle Rowland saying she learned only 10 days ago that hundreds of thousands of older 4G handsets would not be able to call 000 without the 3G network.

A new Working Group is being established, and 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 voice calls.
 
The 3G network switchover was first announced in 2019, and will provide a more efficient use of spectrum by mobile network operators to boost capacity and data speeds. Telcos, and a number of organisations including the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, have been warning for months that older handsets – including some 4G handsets – would not work once the 3G network was switched off.
 
The Government is concerned customers with the older 4G handsets may mistakenly believe their mobile device is unaffected post-switchover, as the handset could continue to operate normally for voice and data, except when trying to call 000. Telcos are undertaking efforts to advise customers with some older 4G phones, however devices purchased overseas and brought into Australia, or those purchased via the ‘grey market’ may not be appropriately configured to make emergency calls following the switchover.

Minister Rowland said that while it has been known for some time that there were older 4G phones that may be affected by the 3G shutdown, it was only 10 days ago she learned that mobile operators have estimated up to 740,000 4G handsets may stop working, or work for most calls but not be able to call 000.

“Supporting Australians’ access to Triple Zero is critical,” 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.
 
Vodaphone/TPG’s network ceased operation on 30 January 2024, Telstra plans to shut down its 3G network on 30 June 2024, and Optus plans to do the same from 1 September 2024.

What you need to know about the 3G shut down – read our explainer.

The Working Group will formalise collaboration between industry to better identify impacted customers, improve the accessibility of public-facing information and contact points, and amplify messages to ensure the community is aware of the switchover.
 
All three major telecommunications providers – Telstra, Optus, TPG – and the peak industry body, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), have been asked to join the Working Group. The Department of Infrastructure. Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts will have observer status.
 
The Group will provide fortnightly updates to the Government on efforts to identify potentially impacted customers, and identify ways for customers to check if their device will be impacted.
 
The Government strongly advises consumers against placing test calls to Triple Zero, given impacted devices will still work over existing 3G services until the 3G switchovers occur later this year. This will not provide an answer on whether your phone is affected, and could prevent others from accessing life-saving support. To find out if your phone is affected, contact your service provider.


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