3G Network Shutdown? Here’s everything you need to know.
13 December 2023
We’re so used to new developments in communications technology that it can be a shock to discover a product or service is being wound back or shut down.
Mobile network technology has come a long way, with 4G and now 5G, it’s time for the 3G network to end. Many people won’t even notice the end of 3G but it’s estimated to affect millions of Australian devices, many of which are not phones.
So, it’s well worth checking whether you’ll be affected and what you need to do to plan ahead..
Let’s look at all the details that you need to know.
What is 3G?
The ‘G’ in 3G stands for ‘generation’. So, 3G was the third generation of mobile networks. It was first available in Australia all the way back in 1998. Yep, that’s a whopping 25 years ago.
The 3G network served us well in a mobile communication era dominated by voice and text. In fact, 3G was an amazing leap forward from 1G and 2G networks, including allowing Aussies to make video calls for the first time.
Then 4G, the fourth generation of mobile network, came along in 2008. It allowed much faster connectivity. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to stream or manage high definition videos.
And now the 5G network is being rolled out across the country, bringing with it much higher speeds capable of supporting sophisticated augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) applications.
Why is the 3G network shutting down?
The 3G network might be on the older side but it still works fine. It’s not that it’s breaking or dying in any way. There’s an active decision being made to shut it down to allow more room for the newer, faster networks (4G and 5G).
You see, there's only so much space available on the radio frequency spectrum. That’s not a man-made limitation, it’s simply the facts of radio wave physics.
If space is taken up with older technology, like 3G, there's less room for 4G and 5G. So, the shutdown is a case of ‘out with the old to leave room for the new’.
The surprisingly down-to-earth term for this is ‘re-farming’. Think of a farmer deciding to stop growing 3G and using available paddocks for their 4G crop instead. (OK, we know that networks do not grow like crops but it’s an analogy!).
Specifics of the 3G shutdown
Let’s get down to details about the 3G shutdown:
When: The ultimate end of Australia’s 3G network will be September 2024. However, different service providers have different timetables. Optus (the network provider for amaysim) will continue their 3G network the longest, with it being available through to September 2024.
What will the impact of the 3G network shutdown be?
Any device that is reliant on the 3G network will simply stop working once their provider’s 3G network is shut down. They won’t be slow or patchy, they will not work at all, including calls to Triple Zero (000).
You might think that mobile networks are only relevant to phones but that’s far from the truth.
EFTPOS machines, medical devices, security cameras, medical alarms, vehicle tracking devices make use of the mobile network.
It’s true that some people will not even notice the end of the 3G network. Those with newer devices that were designed to operate on 4G and 5G networks won’t even need to wave farewell.
However, anyone who has any device - including the list above - that are more than around five years old OR purchased second hand or overseas - need to check whether they are reliant on the 3G network.
That includes the following (or devices released before the ones below):
- iPhones: 5 series
- iPads: Air, Retina, mini Retina, Mini, Mini 3
- Google Pixel: 2 XL
- Samsung: Galaxy J1 Mini and Galaxy S5
- Oppo A57 and F1s
For a fuller list of devices likely to be affected, see Optus’ top 25 devices most likely to be affected by the 3G network shutdown list.
What should I do if I think my device is affected (or if I’m not sure)?
The first thing to do is not panic! However, do not take this as permission to put your head in the sand and ignore this issue until the shutdown date is looming.
Keep an eye out for communication from your provider, as most companies will be in proactive contact with customers who are likely to be affected. But don’t rely on this, particularly for less common device types.
The truth is that it might take you some time to update your tech, particularly if it is literally life-saving, like a medical device.
Step 1: Check if your device or service is reliant on 3G
There are two easy ways to do this. If you still have your device’s manual, look in there. Or you can contact the device manufacturer (by phone or via the web). Check this even if you don’t see your device included on lists like the one above as it’s simply impossible for any list to include every device.
Step 2: Take action to upgrade
There is no way to make changes to your 3G network device so it can be used on the 4G or 5G network. They are simply not made in a way that allows you to change networks.
So, it’s time to upgrade to a new device!
For devices other than phones, this will involve finding out about what technology is available now. You might find that there are improved options available but it’s important to allow enough time to research, choose and then set up and get used to the new device comfortably before your provider’s shutdown date.
If you’re currently using a 3G-only phone, you’ll hopefully love discovering all the new features that are now available! You can choose from the hottest new iPhone 15 or look for a good deal on an older (but still 4G compatible) phone.
Step 3: Share the word
Please take the time to check with family and friends so that they’re also aware of the upcoming 3G network closure. This is particularly important for older people who may not come across articles like this and who might need more time and support to find a new device.
What about the rest of the world?
Australia is not going it alone by planning the end of our 3G network. Most other countries around the world are either planning to, or have already, shut down their 3G networks.
Will the 4G network shutdown too?
It’s likely that the 4G network will come to an end eventually but we’re talking about long timelines. Most analysts expect the 4G network to be around for at least another decade so you’re safe in upgrading now to either a 4G or a 5G compatible phone.
So, in summary…
The 3G network will be fully shutdown in Australia by September 2024, with each telco determining their own shutdown date.
Any devices that are only able to use 3G technology will simply stop working so need to be identified and replaced. This includes phones and tablets as well as EFTPOS machines, alarm systems, fleet tracking systems and medical devices.
Don’t worry, you can keep your same phone number!