Some 4G devices may not reach Triple Zero following 3G sunset

Thursday, 21 March, 2024

Some 4G devices may not reach Triple Zero following 3G sunset

The Australian Government is working with industry to create a new working group to support the planned switchover from 3G to 4G. The working group will focus on a subset of 4G handsets configured to use 3G for calling Triple Zero, despite otherwise working over 4G to make voice calls.

The 3G network switchover will provide a more efficient use of spectrum by mobile network operators to boost capacity and data speeds. However, customers in possession of particular 4G handsets may mistakenly believe their mobile device is unaffected post-switchover, as the handset could continue to operate normally for voice and data, except when trying to call Triple Zero.

The industry is undertaking efforts to advise customers with some older 4G phones, devices purchased overseas and brought into Australia or those purchased via the ‘grey market’ that their handsets may not be appropriately configured to make emergency calls following the switchover. Mobile network operators estimate that up to 740,000 handsets could potentially be impacted, but further work is needed by the working group to validate the scope of these estimates.

The working group will formalise collaboration between industry to better identify impacted customers, improve the accessibility of public-facing information and contact points, and amplify messages to ensure the community is aware of the switchover. Telstra, Optus, TPG and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) have been asked to join the working group, while the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts will have observer status.

If warranted, 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. In the meantime, the government advises consumers against placing test calls to Triple Zero, given that impacted devices will still work over existing 3G services until the 3G switchovers occur later this year.

“This new working group will ensure industry better coordinates efforts to identify and contact impacted customers, improves the accessibility of public-facing information and contact points, and provides regular advice to government on the number of potentially affected devices and customers in the market,” said Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland.

“I would encourage Australians who think their device may be impacted to reach out to their service provider for more information.”

The news comes some weeks after the government announced updates to the Telecommunications in new developments (TIND) policy indicating that all new housing developments of 50 house lots or more should include consideration of mobile coverage during planning processes. The changes place expectations on developers to actively consider the inclusion of mobile infrastructure in new developments to help ensure residents have access to a reliable mobile service when moving in to a new home.

The rules, if implemented by states and territories, would mean developers, mobile network operators and mobile network infrastructure providers need to engage with each other as early as possible on mobile connectivity and coverage solutions for new housing developments with more than 50 lots. The new rules were informed by public consultation on proposed policy changes in late 2023, including with the Mobile Telecommunications Working Group.

“These new guidelines will help bring mobile coverage into the national planning framework and provide clear guidance to property developers about the importance of mobile coverage,” Rowland said.

“The Commonwealth will continue engaging constructively with the states and territories to develop nationally consistent planning rules across all jurisdictions.”

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