Will your Phone be affected by the 3G Shutdown?

The 3G shutdown was inevitable, because as technology becomes advanced, older networks would eventually have to make way for faster and more reliable networks like 4G and 5G. The plan was initially announced back in 2019, so mobile carriers could boost capacity and data speeds for newer technologies. The Big 3 – Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone have been actively preparing the public and urging customers affected to upgrade their 3G-only devices to 4G or 5G.

Why is 3G being shutdown?

Vodafone has already shuttered its 3G network in phases, while Telstra and Optus are about to do in within a few months in 2024. With newer networks like 4G LTE and 5G, we are experiencing a shift in how we consume and interact with technology. These robust networks offer lightning-fast speeds, significantly lower latency, and improved overall efficiency. Carriers can now free up valuable spectrum for quicker data transmission and much more. It will help optimize the use of limited spectrum resources and enable carriers to deliver improved services to users.

How will mobile phones be affected due to 3G shutdown?

When network carriers shut down 3G networks, some devices no longer have access to certain functionalities. Consumers and businesses must stay informed about these changes and promptly update or replace their devices or services when necessary. 

When a roaming user from a non-VoLTE (Voice over LTE) network enters a zone that doesn’t support 3G anymore, they can’t revert to 3G networks for voice connections, so they will be unable to access data services. When a customer from a home provider that has retired their 3G network enters a non-VoLTE roaming network, they won’t be able to connect to 3G for both voice and data.

When the 3G network was in its glory, smartphones enabled users to browse the web, share, share videos and photos, and stay connected with people from around the world. Technologies like 4G LTE, 5G, and Wi-Fi networks, have made it even more convenient now. But with 3G turned off, some older phones won’t be able to make calls or text messages, but can still connect to Wi-Fi to access internet-based applications.

Some carriers are reaching out to 3G customers to help with the transition to 4G and 5G service plans. There are some trade-in offers and incentives that will have your 3G-supported phone swapped with a 4G-supported one for free. For instance, Telstra has launched a new service that customers can use to determine if their device could be affected in the wake of 3G networks shutting down. Users have to send an SMS to a number, and they will immediately know the status of their device.

How to be sure if your phone will work after the 3G shutdown?

The 3G network going dark has sent several people into panic as they have questions such as – Will their phones be affected? Will they still have service where they reside? Are there ways to prolong the longevity of their existing devices? Kindly check your phone specifications to see if it supports newer cellular networks or not. Phones with 4G LTE or 5G network capabilities will continue functioning even after the 3G shutdown.

Consumers are still unclear about how to tell if their phone might stop working. Here are a few factors to take into account.

  • Time of purchase – With 3G set to become obsolete, your phone has to be able to make calls over at least 4G LTE networks. Since that feature was launched across major wireless providers around ten years back, you will probably require a replacement if you bought your phone before that.
  • Watch out for texts or emails from carriers – Telcos have been reaching out to people whose devices won’t work after the 3G shutdown. If you think you are at risk, keep your eyes peeled for messages from your wireless carrier. Some outgoing calls might be redirected to a customer service line to guide you through the changes. If you haven’t received any communication from the carrier, get in touch with them right away.
  • Talk to your service provider – As mentioned above, carriers will have the most updated information regarding the phone models that will or won’t be supported after the shutdown. Even if they are reasonably modern, some international or “unlocked” models might not come with the right software that lets them make calls over 4G LTE.

Cut off from making emergency calls!

A serious scare is that thousands of Australians could be cut off from calling triple-0 within months, which is Australia’s emergency helpline number. Telstra is due to switch off its 3G network on June 30 and Optus is expected to switch off the network in September, meaning devices that rely solely on 3G will no longer operate. As per ABC, about 113,000 Telstra customers are yet to upgrade their 3G handsets.

There is also a subset of older 4G-enabled handsets that could be unable to call triple-0 once the 3G networks are switched off because of the way those phones are configured. Owners might not realize this issue till an emergency actually happens. Earlier, it was estimated that around 740,000 might not be able to dial “000”, but according to Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, the number has shot up to a million just a month later. 

Numerous 4G devices have been sold in the last few years, but many didn’t support 4G VoLTE calling, or only supported it with the telcos they were purchased with. These are the phones that default to 3G for emergency calls.

How have telcos managed the chaos so far?

Telcos are urging customers to check if their devices have VoLTE, so there are no issues when the 3G networks shut down. VoLTE is the technology used by most modern phones to send voice calls over the same 4G and 5G channels that also carry other mobile data. It ensures these devices will have excellent call quality, rapid connection times, and ability to use voice and data at the same time. Some phones don’t have VoLTE enabled by default, so users have to go to the phone settings and then figure out how to activate it. 

If customers aren’t sure if their devices have VoLTE or if it needed to be manually enabled, they could check with their carrier or their phone’s user manual. As of now, The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), which represents Australia’s mobile telecommunications industry, said 3G-only phones and some older 4G phones that don’t have VoLTE capabilities would be impacted by 3G network shutdowns.

Devices that can’t be used to make emergency calls won’t serve the purpose. Consumers have to check if their devices support VoLTE Emergency Calling as well, because a small section of 4G phones that support voice calls over 4G (VoLTE) don’t allow voice calls to emergency services over 4G, and have to be replaced promptly.

The larger telcos have done well in preparing customers for the network closure by providing clear and precise communications for the last couple of years, but smaller providers known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators, or MVNOs, are yet to catch up. However, the AMTA has assured that the major telcos are collaborating with their MVNOs to share consistent information regarding the 3G sunset. 

A delay isn’t being totally ruled out when it comes to the complete 3G switchover, which is why a working group including Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, and the AMTA has been set up to report regularly, while ensuring a seamless 3G transition. There are several options under the law for the government to consider proposals to delay the 3G shutdown, which could be considered further down the road.

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