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Group to help with switchover 3G and 4G concerns

The Federal Government is forming a working group to support regional consumers during the switchover from 3G to 4G networks when the remaining 3G networks shut down in coming months.

The working group will focus on 4G handsets that have been configured to use the 4G network when making ordinary voice calls, but use the 3G network when calling triple zero.

Telstra plans to shut down its 3G network on June 30, while Optus will shut its down from September 1. TPG’s 3G network ceased operation in January.

Member for Mallee Anne Webster said the shutdown raised health concerns about incompatible life-saving medical devices.

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“Many Australians rely on 3G-connected emergency pendants, and the risk of not being able to connect with triple zero is too high,” she said.

“While some providers have pledged to upgrade devices at no additional cost, the financial burden and logistical nightmare can fall on those least able to shoulder it.”

The network switchover to 4G was first announced in 2019, and is designed to provide a more efficient use of spectrum by mobile network operators to boost capacity and data speeds.

The government has also raised concerns that customers using particular 4G handsets might mistakenly believe their mobile device is unaffected post-switchover, as the handset could continue to operate normally for voice and data, but not when trying to call triple zero.

If warranted in the public interest, options exist under law for the government to consider regulatory intervention – including proposals for delays to planned switchovers, subject to required consultation and procedural processes.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said supporting Australians’ access to triple zero was critical.

“This new working group will ensure industry better co-ordinates efforts to identify and contact impacted customers, improve the accessibility of public-facing information and contact points, and provide regular advice to government on the number of potentially affected devices and customers in the market,” she said. 

Senate Inquiry

Dr Webster said a Senate Inquiry into the shutdown of the 3G mobile network and telecommunications services accessibility was currently underway with submissions closing on May 31, one month before Telstra’s scheduled 3G shutdown.

People can visit for more information about the inquiry.

“The Albanese government must not to allow the 3G shutdown without first assessing the risk to those it will affect, in this case the elderly or sick,” Dr Webster said.

All three major telecommunications providers – Telstra, Optus, TPG – and peak industry body Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, AMTA, have been asked to join the working group. 

The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts will have observer status.

The group will provide fortnightly updates to the government on efforts to identify potentially impacted customers, and identify ways for customers to check if their device will be affected. 

Ms Rowland said telcos were best placed to advise whether an individual’s phone might be affected, and would contact customers. 

Mobile network operators estimate up to 740,000 handsets could potentially be affected. 

Ms Rowland said the government strongly advised consumers against placing test calls to triple zero, given affected devices would still work over existing 3G services until the switchovers occurred later this year. 

The entire April 17, 2024 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!