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How the 3G shutdown could impact emergency calls

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Widespread use of 4G and 5G services has prompted several telcos to shut down their 3G networks. However, the Federal Government has raised concerns about limiting customer access to emergency calls.
3g shutdown emergency calls

Widespread use of 4G and 5G services has prompted several telcos to shut down their 3G networks. However, the Federal Government has raised concerns about limiting customer access to emergency calls.

Vodafone and TPG have already shut down their 3G networks, while Telstra and Optus are expected to do the same later this year.

Up to 740,000 phones could be impacted by the shutdowns, including 4G phones that revert to 3G during triple zero calls.

3G shutdown

In December, Vodafone became the first telco to shut down 3G, the third generation phone data network.
Optus and Telstra have said they plan to reallocate technology used to run their 3G networks to support 4G and/or 5G services instead.

Despite these faster mobile networks, remote parts of the country have little to no connectivity to phone services. A 2023 RMIT report found that 43% of remote First Nations communities have no mobile service.

Emergency calls

According to the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, 3G’s closure will mainly impact older devices.

Newer devices are built with VoLTE technology, enabling them to make voice calls on the 4G network.

Some devices don’t have VoLTE capacity or revert to 3G when calling emergency services. When the 3G network shuts down, those devices won’t be able to make emergency calls.

Any medical devices, security devices, or EFTPOS machines on a certain 3G spectrum will also lose coverage.

Working group

The Federal Government has now launched a working group (a forum of government and industry experts) to ensure all mobile customers can reach emergency services.

The group is expected to focus on determining which devices are manufactured to switch to 3G for Triple Zero calls, and notifying impacted customers.

Telcos are working with the government to implement ways users can check to see if their devices will be impacted by the 3G shutdown.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said that the government supports “the safe switchover from 3G,” but that it’s important Australians are “aware that some devices… are not appropriately configured to contact emergency services on the 4G network”.

“Supporting Australians’ access to Triple Zero is critical,” she said.

Customers who think they may be impacted should contact their service provider.

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