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Australian 3G network shutdown: What you need to know

You may have heard that the big three telcos are preparing to shut off their respective 3G mobile networks. Vodafone will be the first telco to switch off 3G services on December 15, 2023, followed by Telstra in June 2024 and Optus in September 2024.

For the majority of Aussies, it will be business as usual — but the small percentage of customers who are still using 3G-only devices will need to update their technology ASAP.

No matter which network you’re with, you’ll need to ensure you’re ready for the change to 4G and 5G-only services. If you’ve got questions about Vodafone’s 3G switch-off, read on for info on how to navigate the network closure.

Note: While this guide will mainly focus on Vodafone’s imminent 3G shutdown, we’ll update it closer to Telstra and Optus’ 3G switch-offs with more information for each telco’s customers.

I’m on the Vodafone network — what do I need to know?

While the majority of phones, tablets and mobile devices in current circulation will be unaffected by a 3G shut-off, any 3G-only device — and some older 4G phones — will no longer be able to access Vodafone’s mobile network. This means that to keep using your mobile phone, data-only or mobile broadband plan, you’ll need to upgrade to a 4G or 5G-ready device.

If you’re still using a 3G phone after the network is turned off, you won’t be able to make or receive calls, send or receive messages, or access mobile data. However, you will still be able to connect your device to WiFi networks, such as your home internet.

One thing to note is that you don’t have to be a Vodafone customer to be affected — this will also impact smaller telcos that operate on the Vodafone mobile network. Telcos on this list include:

  • C Mobile
  • Felix Mobile
  • GoTalk
  • Hello Mobile
  • iiNet

  • Internode
  • Kogan Mobile
  • Lebara
  • TPG

If you’re with any of the above for a phone or data-only/mobile broadband plan, you may also need to check if your device or service will be affected by the shutdown. If you’re unsure, contact your telco for assistance.

How do I know if my device is 3G-only?

If you’ve bought your device within the last 10 years, it’s likely that it’s at least 4G-capable. However, older devices may not be compatible with Voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE), a technology that allows your phone to make and receive calls on 4G networks.

Devices purchased outside of Australia may also be affected, even if they’re listed as 4G-ready, simply because their spectrum bands aren’t compatible with Australian networks.

Phones and tablets

You may be able to see if VoLTE and/or 4G is enabled in your device’s Settings under Mobile Data Options. Generally, if your phone is able to connect to 4G, it should automatically select this network over 3G where available — so if you only ever see the ‘3G’ symbol at the top of your phone or tablet’s screen, your device is likely to be 3G-only.

If you’re not sure, you can check your device manual, or contact your telco or device manufacturer for more information. As a guide, here are some of the most popular 3G-only devices that are still widely used across Australia, according to Optus:

  • Alcatel 2038
  • Alcatel OneTouch 2045
  • Apple iPhone 5
  • Apple iPhone 5c
  • Apple iPhone 5s
  • Aspera A42
  • Doro 6521
  • Doro PhoneEasy 623 OPTUS
  • Google Pixel 2 XL
  • Huawei E5251s-2
  • Huawei E5331
  • Huawei Y6 Prime
  • Nokia 301

  • OPPO A57 (2016)
  • OPPO F1s
  • OPPO F5 Youth
  • Optus X Smart
  • Samsung Galaxy J1 Mini
  • Samsung Galaxy S5
  • ZTE Blade A0605
  • iPad Air
  • iPad Retina
  • iPad Mini Retina
  • iPad Mini
  • iPad Mini 3

Other devices

Other types of devices — such as smartwatches or mobile hotspots — may also be impacted by the shut-off. Again, if you’re not sure, get in touch with your device’s manufacturer or your telco for more specific information.

In summary, you’ll want to make sure your device can:

a) connect to 4G

b) support VoLTE.

If it can’t, you’ll need to upgrade your phone, tablet, smartwatch or mobile broadband/hotspot device.

I’m using a 3G-only phone or device, what do I do next?

If your current device is impacted, you’ll need to switch to one that’s 4G and VoLTE-capable. Luckily, phone-owners don’t need to spend thousands to do this — just about every new smartphone on the Aussie market is now, at a minimum, 4G-ready.

Buying a 4G phone from Vodafone

Vodafone customers can buy on a device plan from a the telco, or outright from a range of retailers. If you’re a prepaid user, there’s also a range of phones available on prepaid Vodafone plans for less than $150 upfront.

Cheap 4G phones

For affordable to mid-range phones, consider brands such as OPPO, Samsung, Motorola and Nokia. You can find a range of our picks for all budgets below:

You can also compare several models in the table below.

Phone Features Storage Size Price

Motorola Moto G54 5G

  • 6.5-inch Full HD+ LCD display
  • Rear cameras: 50MP main + 2MP macro
  • Front camera: 16MP
  • 5,000mAh battery
  • MediaTek Dimensity 7020 processor
  • Midnight Blue and Indigo Blue colours
128GB
$299
Shop now
 

OPPO A58

  • 6.72-inch FHD+ LCD display
  • Rear cameras: 50MP main + 2MP portrait
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • 5,000mAh battery
  • MediaTek Helio G85 processor
  • Glowing Black and Dazzling Green colours
128GB
$299
Shop now


Samsung Galaxy A54 5G

  • 6.4-inch display
  • Rear cameras: 50MP main + 12MP ultra-wide + 5MP macro
  • Front camera: 32MP
  • 5,000mAh battery
  • Octa-core processor
  • Awesome Graphite, Awesome Violet colours
128GB
$699
Shop now

Will I need to change my mobile or data plan?

The good news is you won’t need to change your mobile, data or broadband plan once your 3G network goes dark — you’ll still be able to access your service on 4G and 5G networks where available. You’ll also get to keep your phone number, so there’s no stress about losing your digits!

However, you may need to update your SIM card, if your old device still uses a mini or micro SIM size. Newer phones and devices require a nano SIM as standard, which is much smaller than the SIM cards used in old phones. If your current SIM is too big for your new device, you can contact your telco’s customer service team to order a nano SIM replacement.

Will I still get coverage without 3G?

Vodafone claims its 4G network coverage is “similar in size and reach” to 3G, and its 5G coverage is continuing to roll out across the country. The same applies to Telstra and Optus, with both telcos currently building out 4G to ensure all customers are covered before 3G turns off.

For most users, especially those in metro areas, you’ll get 4G coverage just fine. However, if you live regionally or rurally, you may want to check with Vodafone or your current telco to ensure you’ll get reliable 4G network access once 3G is no longer available.

The good news is that 4G and 5G technology is much faster than 3G, so you may notice a big leap in speeds and performance once you switch. For more information on the differences between each technology type, check out the guides below.

Should I upgrade to a 5G phone?

If you want to future-proof your new phone (and gain access to some of the fastest mobile speeds available in Australia), you may want to consider a device with 5G connectivity, in addition to 4G. 5G-ready devices allow you to use your telco’s 4G and 5G networks where available, so you’ll be able to experience faster speeds and less lag when on 5G.

5G is now standard on premium phones from brands such as Apple, Samsung and Google, and readily available on affordable devices from almost every major manufacturer. You can pick up a 5G phone for as little as $299 (the newly-released Moto G54 5G), with plenty of other options available for under $600.

Once you’ve got a 5G-ready phone, you’ll need to pair it with a 5G-capable plan. All of Vodafone’s current SIM-only postpaid, Prepaid Plus and 5G home internet plans include 5G access as standard. If you’re not with Vodafone, you may need to check with your telco to see if 5G is available on your plan.

Even outside of the Vodafone network, more and more providers are launching 5G-ready SIM plans. To get an idea of what’s available, compare prepaid and postpaid 5G plans from a range of telcos below.

The following table shows a selection of published postpaid SIM plans with 5G access on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

The following table shows a selection of published prepaid SIM plans with 5G access on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

Why are 5G networks shutting down?

Vodafone, Telstra and Optus have each made the decision to switch off 3G in order to re-purpose their 3G spectrums to boost 4G and 5G coverage. Vodafone’s license to access the spectrum it currently uses for 3G will also expire mid-2024, so it makes sense that the telco would choose to focus its resources on faster, more advanced 4G and 5G technology.

Switching off one mobile technology type to accommodate the next generation isn’t new in Australia, as all three big telcos have already turned off 2G to help bolster 4G services. The 3G shut-down is the latest move to help strengthen mobile coverage across the country, by giving more homes and businesses access to fast and reliable 4G and 5G.

Tara Donnelly
Utilities Editor
Tara Donnelly is an internet and mobile expert - sectors she’s spent a decade covering - and also oversees energy and consumer technology content. She holds a Bachelor of Communications from the University of Canberra and has shared her expertise on national media including 9 News, 7 News, Sunrise and the ABC.

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