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Thousands of 4G Phones Face Triple-0 Issues Due to 3G Network Shutdowns

Around 283,000 older 4G phones in Australia are at risk of being unable to call Triple-0 as telcos continue to shut down 3G networks, according to a report from an industry working group to the federal government. Initially, industry estimates suggested that between 740,000 and 1 million devices could be affected. While the revised number is lower, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland emphasized that it is “still too high.”

The government is particularly concerned about certain 4G phones that will function normally on 4G networks after the 3G shutdown but will default to 3G for Triple-0 calls. These devices, which are often older or purchased overseas, lack VoLTE (voice over LTE) support, which modern phones use to send voice calls over 4G and 5G channels. TPG, which owns Vodafone, shut down its 3G network between December 2023 and January 2024. Telstra has delayed its 3G shutdown to 31 August, while Optus plans to start its shutdown on 1 September.

Minister Rowland stated that while the government supports the shutdown of 3G networks, “it needs to be done in a safer way.” She highlighted the risk: “Some 4G phones are configured to default to 3G for Triple-0 calls. These devices will appear to work normally until an emergency arises.”

Regional Concerns and Government Monitoring

AMTA’s CEO, Louise Hyland, urged Australians to check their devices, especially older models, as soon as possible. She explained, “While 3G networks are still operational, affected devices will connect to any available 3G network for emergency calls to Triple-0. However, once 3G networks are fully shut down, these phones won’t be able to make emergency calls. It’s crucial to act now if you have an older device.”

Hyland also pointed out that the transition from 3G might pose challenges for some users, particularly in regional and remote areas. Despite promises from telcos to expand coverage to match or exceed 3G coverage, maintaining connectivity in these areas remains a concern.

Minister Rowland assured that the government is closely monitoring carriers to ensure consumers benefit from the switchover. She also encouraged telcos to participate in the government’s Mobile Black Spots Program to improve regional coverage.

The 2024 Regional Telecommunications Review is currently underway, inviting residents in regional, rural, and remote parts of Australia to share their views through a survey that opened on 18 June. This review aims to address the telecommunications needs and challenges faced by these communities as the industry transitions away from 3G networks.

Industry Response: ‘Check My Device’ Tool

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), which represents the telco industry, has launched a free online tool called Check My Device. This tool allows users to check if their phone will be impacted by upcoming 3G shutdowns. It works by checking a device’s unique 15-digit IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, which can be accessed by dialing *#06#.

Telstra and Optus customers can also text ‘3’ to ‘3498’ to receive advice on whether their device will be affected. The Check My Device tool requires no personal information, works on any mobile network, and supports 11 different languages.

The AMTA advises using the Check My Device tool before purchasing a device by asking the seller for the IMEI number. Some imported devices might not support Triple-0 calls once 3G is completely shut down. Users are also encouraged to recycle old or affected devices through MobileMuster.

Minister Rowland said, “This tool is another way Australians can check if their device may be impacted. If your mobile provider alerts you about an impact on your service, it is important to respond and take action.”

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