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The 3G Migration: The Imminent Shutdown and How to Not Get Caught Out


The introduction of 3G WCDMA /HSPA in 2005 ushed in a new age of mobile functionality, bringing with it the foundations of mobile broadband, internet access, and data transmission, but like all good things it must come to an end.

As of 2019, Australian Telcos started to make announcements that they will begin rationalising and shutting down their 3G networks.


So, when will these changes occur, and what coverage can be expected after?

Having already turned off its 2100MHz 3G, Telstra has announced a full shutdown of its 3G networks as of June 30, 2024, TPG/Vodafone has announced a two-stage shutdown with metropolitan areas ceasing to be covered by December 2023 but will extend their rural 900MHz coverage unit June 2024. While Optus has already rationalised its services down to just the 900MHz band, it has now announced all 3G services will be shutdown by September 2024.

While Telstra has made assurances that no voice services will be discontinued before this date, it has warned that the quality of service may be impacted. Additionally, as they plan to start utilising the 850MHz spectrum for 5G services prior to the June 2024 date, this repurposing may cause a detriment to the data speed of 3G-only devices and services. It has also been made clear that this isn’t a rolling switch off, all services will be turned off within a two to three-week period, meaning no area will have significantly more time than another to arrange their alternative connections. This means it is extremely important that all assets have been moved to a currently supported technology before the shutdown date.

Telcos have made commitments to expand their 4G and 5G network services to “materially the same coverage” as their current 3G services, however, differences in the 4G spectrum used, propagation performance and device performance means that there will never be 100% identical coverage, particularly at the fringe or edges of coverage areas. It is also unlikely that these more regional areas will see 5G connections for some time, it is expected that most of the 3G gaps will initially be replaced by 4G connections.


Why are the Telcos making this decision?

Much like a water pipe, radio spectrum can only carry so much at any given time, there is only so much data you can send over radio spectrum before it hits capacity. While there is only so much spectrum to go around, how you utilise it is important to maximise the capacity. 5G networks utilise the spectrum in a significantly more efficient way compared to 3G or 4G, allowing more lower latency, and faster services with the same amount of spectrum allocation. 5G’s architecture also allows it to be used over a wider spectrum range, making it generally more versatile as it will be able to cover both the short ranged high frequency, high throughput applications, and the longer distance lower frequency application. Ultimately, this is why the telcos are shutting down the networks, so these lower band spectrum frequencies, 850- 2100MHz, can be switched to the more effective 5G services. In the long run, this will mean better quality of service for customers as well.


What does this mean for current 3G connections?

At this stage, consumers are unlikely to be affected by the 3G shutdowns, with 3G services taking up only a fraction of the total network traffic. The majority of the remaining traffic active on the 3G network is being utilised for industrial applications. Predominantly, automation, environmental monitoring, water quality monitoring, and tracking among other applications.

The reasons for staying with these older technologies in these industries are highly varied but can include:

  • Cost, most monitoring applications do not require the speed or through-put offered by 4G or 5G devices, so paying for the higher cost for this hardware has previously not made sense.
  • Power Requirements, many 3G applications were deployed on solar or on batteries with equipment designed for the 3G power draw, changing connectivity technology will likely end in power upgrades being required.
  • Peripheral Equipment Replacement, in many cases switching to an alternate connectivity technology, will not be as simple as just replacing the modem, with many connected devices also reliant on CSD for communications these will also need to be replaced, and this can become costly quickly.
  • Integration Time and Cost; as many of these applications involve integrations with other devices through industrial protocols or the sending of data to servers, this integration will often need to be done with each new connectivity device.
  • Current coverage, many remote locations are still only covered reliably by 3G data services. Without any need to change devices businesses have not needed or wanted, and possibly not been able, to move to alternative technologies.

For any business still running a 3G service after the telco shutdown date their services will cease to function, leaving these devices shut off from remote contact, and leaving their endpoints uncommunicative. In addition to any 3G-only devices, any early 4G devices should be checked for network compatibility. Many early 4G devices relied on 3G still for voice or operated on limited 4G bands. These devices may see reduced functionality in the area if the particular 4G bands it operates on are not supported by the nearby towers.


Why is it still important to look at it early?

When considering your 3G replacement it isn’t as easy as dropping in a new device. Testing, proof of concept, replacement of peripheral equipment, training on new devices, and time of installation all need to be considered as a part of the timeline. Rollout alone can take over a year depending on the number of devices needing to be replaced compared to the team that is available for the installations. Understanding your application, deployed fleet, and resources for replacement are extremely important to ensure your company won’t be caught out when the time comes.

If you have questions RFI can assist you to find Next-Gen Technology to suit your business needs and provide you with an effective transition.

Want to find out more about the 3G shutdown - click the image below.

3G Migration