As 5G becomes more accessible, and telcos spend their time rolling out 5G capability across Australia, a lot of operators have already shutdown 3G coverage. If you have a 3G phone it might be time to think about upgrading.
Australian telcos have already started reallocating 3G, here’s what you should know.
What is 3G?
It is the third generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology. “G” stands for Generation and, basically, the higher the number, the newer and more efficient the technology. As you should be across by now, 5G is the latest gen of mobile communications technology the industry is focusing on.
Each generation of technology uses radio frequency spectrum bands. Mobile phones and devices use these spectrum bands to communicate with the mobile network.
What does cutting off 3G mean?
Cutting off 3G can also be called reallocating or re-farming.
Re-farming is when a specific mobile radio frequency (or spectrum) band is repurposed from one technology to another. As technology evolves, people are using it less and less, which has resulted in the 3G bands not being used all that much.
Spectrum is a finite resource. As our friends over at WhistleOut put it, the amount available to use is determined by the physics of radio waves. Telcos buy access to “lots” of spectrum that they use to build their network, but once a band is full, that’s it. We can’t add more.
It’s for this reason that telcos in Australia have made the decision to repurpose this spectrum band (and so it can improve 4G and boost its 5G). Once the 3G spectrum band has been reallocated, it will no longer be available to use.
This means that some mobile and mobile broadband devices won’t be able to access the network, or will have limited connectivity.
Most modern phones have both 3G and 4G capability. This means your phone will continue to work on 4G band as before. However, if you are still using a 3G only device, (or 4G device without VoLTE capability) you may wish to consider an upgrade between now and when your telco reallocates the spectrum to a 4G VoLTE device or a 5G capable device.
The telco says it’s continuing planning and upgrades of its mobile network and new 4G coverage will be similar in size and reach as pre-existing 3G coverage. It’s also working to repurpose the spectrum that is used for its 3G services and reallocate it to 5G.
Telstra’s 3G network has been in operation since 2006. By the time it shuts down, it will have been serving Australians for over eighteen years.
Telstra already phased out its 2100MHz spectrum earlier in 2019.
When is Optus closing down 3G?
From September 2024, 3G services won’t be available on the Optus network.
The telco said that over the course of 2023, it’ll be reaching out to customers who it thinks will be impacted, to let them know whether they need to upgrade their device, their SIM card, or both.
Optus has also provided a list of 10 most common 3G devices. If you have an Aspera A42, Alcatel 2038, Alcatel OneTouch 2045, Telit HE910-EUR, Doro PhoneEasy 623 OPTUS, Samsung Galaxy A23, Samsung Galaxy J3, Telit HE910-EUD, Spacetalk Adventurer, or a Simcom SIM5320E, the 3G shutdown will impact you.
Vodafone’s plans for 3G shutdown
Vodafone will switch off its 3G network on 15 December 2023.
The TPG Telecom-owned carrier said a very small number of its customers have 3G-only handsets, tablets, and connected devices and they will need to upgrade those devices before December 2023, and noted some 4G handsets may also need a settings change to be able to continue to make and receive voice calls using the Vodafone 4G network.
Cheap 4G handsets
For many people, a phone exists to make calls, send texts, and be there mostly for emergencies, something not exactly worth spending a tonne of money on. There are a handful of 4G handsets readily available that can be purchased in-store or online – ones that cost under $100. Here’s a quick list.
Locked to the Telstra network
- Telstra Lite 3 $59 from Big W
- Telstra Essential Smart 2.1 4GX – Black $79 from Big W | $79 from Kmart
- Telstra Essential Pro 3 32gb Mobile Phone $99 from Woolworths.
Locked to the Optus network
- Optus X Lite 4G $49 from Woolworths | $59 from Big W | $59 from Kmart
- Optus X Start 3 Smartphone $69 from Kmart | $79 from Woolworths
- Optus X Sight 2 Smartphone $79 from Kmart | $79 from Woolworths | $99 from Target
- Optus X Delight 2 $97 from Target.
Locked to the Vodafone network
- Opel Lite Candy Bar 4G Unlocked Mobile Phone $79 from Australia Post
- Opel Mobile FlipPhone 6 4G Unlocked Mobile Phone $89 from Australia Post
- Opel Mobile SmartJ2 4G Mobile Phone $97 from Officeworks
- Konka F21 Mobile Phone – Blue $99 from Kmart
- Aspera F42 Flip Phone $99 from Woolworths
Please note none of those phones include a contract.
As with everything, it’s best to double-check with your telco as you may need a different plan once the 3G shutdown is in place, or even a new SIM card.
This article has been updated since it was first published.
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