Impact of 3G Shutdown in Australia

Ever since 2003, thousands of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and systems have benefitted from the arrival of 3G in Australia. In the last few years, the network has acted as the backbone of several industries that relied on it to stay connected and transmit data consistently. But with the evolution of 4G/LTE and 5G networks, telcos in Australia have decided to shut down the 3G network, making several devices and systems redundant.

Why are 3G networks being shut down?

This type of shutdown is known as reallocating or re-farming – it happens when a specific mobile radio frequency band or spectrum is repurposed from one technology to another. The reason being that technology is constantly evolving, so people hardly use 3G frequencies these days.

The evolution of the carrier network has two different objectives. The first is to increase data speeds. The second is to better meet the needs of IoT devices, which often only transmit small amounts of data and thus, don’t need high data bandwidth. However, they must have long battery life and greater coverage. For carriers to roll out these new network services, they have to shut down older networks to re-farm the spectrum bands.

3G networks use wideband code division multiple access (WCDMA) technology, which uses the entire cellular spectrum for data transmission. 4G/LTE and 5G use orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) technology, which divides the spectrum into smaller sub-bands or slices for more efficient use. 3G devices can’t communicate with 4G/LTE or 5G towers. As consumer demand for 3G depletes, it isn’t possible for network carriers to maintain and support separate sets of network infrastructure.

Once the 3G spectrum band has been reallocated, it won’t be available to use anymore. Eventually, the spectrum will be improved to 4G/LTE and boosted by 5G later on. Few mobile and mobile broadband devices won’t be able to access the network, or will have limited connectivity. Professional hardware has to be replaced.

What have the Big Three decided?

The major telcos in Australia Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone have announced different timelines to shutdown 3G networks:

Telstra 3G shutdown

The 3G connectivity on its 2100MHz spectrum was shut down on March 25, 2019. However, 3G services will continue on its 850MHz spectrum until June 2024. Consumers who use Telstra MVNOs including Boost Mobile, Belong, and Woolworths Mobile are going to be impacted. As of now, the company is proceeding with the planning and upgrades of its new mobile network and new 4G/LTE coverage. It is even working to repurpose the spectrum that is used for its 3G services and reallocate it to 5G.

Optus 3G shutdown

3G services on the 2100MHz spectrum have been shut down, but the 900Mhz spectrum still has it. All Optus MVNOs including amaysim, Circles.Life, and gomo will lose 3G connectivity, once the 3G is entirely axed in September 2024. The company will contact consumers who are likely to be affected, in order to provide information about upgrading their device, SIM card, or both.

Vodafone 3G shutdown

Here too, there isn’t any 3G connectivity on the 2100MHz spectrum since 2019, but it is available on the 900MHz spectrum. Vodafone plans to switch off the 3G network on 15 December 2023. Vodafone-powered providers such as iiNet, TPG, and Kogan Mobile will lose 3G connectivity. Some 4G/LTE handsets could require a change in settings so they can continue making and receiving calls on the Vodafone 4G/LTE network.

Let us assess the impact of the transition from 3G to 4G/LTE

As of now, Australia has between 2 and 3 million active IoT devices operating on 3G. Apart from key sectors like mining and resources, major users of 3G-enabled devices include healthcare providers, utilities, emergency services and road authorities. Once the shutdown rolls out, all 3G-based devices will cease to operate. It means flood monitoring systems in regional Australia, GPS systems on ambulances, and even traffic signal systems.

Various companies are in different stages in their transition to 4G/LTE. Ideally, these migrations take anywhere from 12 to 18 months. Businesses have to re-evaluate their overall model and technical aspects. It could mean a redesign of the technical architecture, as well as hardware and equipment replacements in the field. The shutdown of the 3G network has its most significant impact on businesses that rely on the 3G network to operate their IoT deployments, including fleet companies, logistics providers, government contractors, and other businesses that use machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. It is crucial for these businesses to understand and properly prepare for the shutdown.

Impact on individual consumers

Most smart devices these days have both 3G and 4G/LTE capability, so your phone should continue functioning like before. But if you are using a 3G only device, then it must be upgraded. 3G will be around till 2024, so you have some time to make the transition. The shutdown is imminent, so take a moment to check your device, and ensure everything is updated and geared up for the future.

Impact on businesses

As technology progresses and new advances replace the old, businesses have to learn, adapt, and embrace the change. Here are some issues that businesses could face:

Compatibility of devices

With 3G devices being discontinued, businesses that exclusively rely on 3G connectivity equipment will face compatibility issues. Upgrading to 4G/LTE compatible devices and routers will be necessary to ensure continued connectivity and operations.

Network congestion

When the transition happens from 3G to 4G/LTE, there will be increased number of users in newer networks. The uptick in demand could cause network congestion, thus impacting the reliability and speed of mobile data connections for businesses during peak usage periods.

Disruptions in services

As telecom providers progressively shut down 3G networks, businesses that depend upon 3G for critical services such as point-of-sale systems, remote monitoring, tracking devices in vehicle fleets, and M2M communications, are bound to face service disruptions. It will unfortunately lead to loss of productivity, customer dissatisfaction, and potential financial losses.

Vulnerabilities in security

Since 3G networks are older technologies, they don’t have cutting-edge security features of their 4G/LTE counterparts. Businesses that still use 3G are definitely exposed to greater security risks. For instance, alarm systems might not work properly, and there could be data breaches and cyber attacks. Upgrading to 4G/LTE networks enhances security measures, protecting sensitive business information.

How can businesses prepare for the transition?

  • Assess the present deployments and determine which hardware is compatible with 4G/LTE. The equipment that doesn’t fall under this category has to be replaced.
  • Evaluate connectivity needs and determine the required bandwidth, coverage area, and data usage.
  • Contact suppliers to begin software upgrades, get an idea of how much the transition will cost, and chalk out replacement hardware. Don’t forget to factor in lead times. You need to conduct thorough research to select a suitable 4G/LTE router that meets your business needs – account for network compatibility, security features, scalability, and management capabilities.
  • Test new devices to ensure they are compatible with existing infrastructure. It could involve reconfiguring or upgrading systems. Testing connectivity is a must, along with configuring redundancy features such as dual SIM functionality, so there is uninterrupted connectivity, even during network disruptions.
  • Identify all devices and equipment that currently rely on 3G connectivity. Update the network settings on these devices to connect to the new 4G/LTE network.
  • Monitor the performance of the 4G/LTE network and devices following the switch. Optimize network settings, such as signal strength and bandwidth allocation, to achieve optimal performance.
  • Communicate all changes to staff and impacted customers to minimize disruptions and ensure a seamless transition.

Will other tech be affected?

Apart from smartphones, 3G plays a crucial role in navigation and alarm-based systems in vehicles. Now that 4G/LTE and 5G have made their foray into the market, roadside assistance and emergency crash alerts are among the many network-based features that will be affected by the shutting down of 3G. Some vehicles have an emergency panic button to alert smart responders, via 3G, which could lose functionality. Make sure that your vehicle supports or can receive hardware upgrades to connect to 4G/LTE. As with smartphones, your best bet to stay in the know is by consulting with your local car dealer. While the modification may come in the form of downloadable software or physical spare parts, it will help to keep your vehicle up-to-date.

The shutdown of the 3G network in Australia is certainly a vital milestone in the evolution of its telecommunications infrastructure. In the upcoming months, it will pose several challenges for businesses that still depend upon a 3G network, but careful planning and preparation make the transition to newer technologies more convenient. By assessing their current devices, testing their systems, and communicating changes to their staff and customers, businesses can prepare for the change and continue to operate effectively into the future. Transitioning to 4G/LTE ensures that businesses can maintain a competitive edge in the digital landscape.

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