How Telstra, Optus and Vodafone Will Deal With the 3G Shutdown

How Telstra, Optus and Vodafone Will Deal With the 3G Shutdown

As 5G becomes more accessible, and telcos spend their time rolling out 5G capability across Australia, operators are getting ready to cease 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.

Telstra’s cut-off

Telstra announced in October 2019 it would be shuttering its 3G network in June 2024.

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 shutting down 3G?

In May 2022, Optus will be reallocating its 3G 2100MHz spectrum band.

The telco currently runs on two spectrum bands – 2100MHz and 900MHz. If your device uses the 3G 2100MHz band only, you won’t be able to use Optus’ 3G services after the reallocation.

It currently has no plans to cease 900MHz, so if your device can connect to Optus’ 3G 900MHz spectrum band, you’ll still be able to use everything as normal.

Similarly, if your 4G device uses the 3G 2100MHz band only for voice calls, you’ll still be able to access data and use text messaging, but you won’t be able to make or receive voice calls.

Vodafone’s plans

Vodafone has no confirmed plans to phase out the service. In previous blog posts, the telco was saying 3G is still very much required for many of its customers around Australia. It did start phasing out 2100MHz in 2019, though.

“The demand for 3G is decreasing and we have been repurposing our spectrum from 3G to 4G over recent years. We haven’t set a timeline at this stage but we are continuing our evolution to 4G as it makes sense to do so,” a TPG Telecom spokesperson told Gizmodo Australia.

Vodafone encourages customers to use its network coverage checker to see the 3G, 4G and 5G coverage in your area. It says in selected areas of rural and regional Australia, it has arrangements with other providers so that its customers may be able to access their 3G network, but it doesn’t guarantee future availability of those coverage areas.