Interview with Mim Hook, ABC Gippsland

MIM HOOK, HOST: Michelle Rowland is your Federal Minister for Communications and she has an update for us on the shutdown of the 3G network. Good morning, Ms. Rowland.


HOOK: Now, what's the latest information on the 3G switchover, as some people are calling it? At the last we heard, there were around potentially a million users that would be affected.

ROWLAND: Sure, Mim. Well, many of your listeners will be aware that the 3G networks that are operated by the mobile network operators are actually going to be switching over to newer technologies like 4G and 5G this year. So, that will eventually be by around September that the Optus and Telstra networks are switched over. Vodafone TPG has already switched over. 

What we found out at the beginning of this year was that there were some devices that would be impacted by the change in this switchover. Some of those in particular are a subset of handsets. So, 4G handsets that use 4G for voice and data, but are actually configured by the manufacturer to use 3G for calls to Triple Zero. So, this is the area of concern with these devices because if you've got a purely 3G device, an older device, you'll know from day one that that doesn't work when the switchover happens, but you won't know that you can't dial Triple Zero on a 4G device until you actually need it. 

Now, we found out towards the beginning of this year that the number of impacted devices was around 740,000. I stood up a Working Group in March with the telcos, the industry association and my Department to work through these challenges and to get people to understand whether or not their device was impacted. 

We now know, thanks to regular reporting that I instigated, that that number now sits at around 370,000 devices. So, it's considerably lowered. But it is still an area of great concern. The people who have these devices are people who probably hold onto their device for a while. They like it, they don't feel the need to change and many of them might well be your listeners.

HOOK: Ms. Rowland, can you guarantee - and you've got Working Groups on the go - and I understand there is some option under law for you to step in and stop the rollover or postpone it on 1 September if you're not satisfied? Can you guarantee that everyone in Gippsland will be able to call Triple Zero when eventually the 3G shutdown happens?

ROWLAND: Well, there are options that exist for me under some carrier licences conditions. They do require me to undertake a certain amount of consultation with the carriers, but that is an option that is available. What I would say is, firstly, we've seen that number come down considerably. 

But I would also appeal to your listeners to utilise the services that Telstra and Optus have now put in place. It's a text service; they can text ‘3’ to the number ‘3498’. So just text ‘3’ to ‘3498’ or they can go to There has been a considerable step-up since March in identifying these customers, but 1 September is the date that we are now working towards.

Telstra has actually postponed it's switch over by a couple of months. So, effectively Telstra and Optus are going to be switched over from September. That does give a little bit of time, but not a lot of time. The carriers have certainly stepped up their efforts, but we need to look at what else needs to be done if that number doesn't come down considerably, because this is a significant issue for people to be able to dial Triple Zero after this switchover.

HOOK: The 3G are they towers, the 3G?

ROWLAND: What we're talking about here is the utilisation of spectrum. So, the ability for carriers to upgrade their networks is about utilising the existing spectrum that's available; essentially making it smarter. And we know that 4G and 5G services are superior to 3G. You've got listeners that will remember even when we had 2G services and the CDMA service, 3G was a considerable improvement. 4G and 5G is an evolution of that. So, we're talking about the utilisation here, spectrum by those carriers.

HOOK: This text says, my 5G enabled phone only picks up 3G in Piedmont. Will the network be upgraded before 3G is switched off? So, saying, even if you have a 5G phone, there's areas that just only pick up 3G? Certainly, I noticed that on my phone - you're often out and about in Gippsland and all of a sudden you're just on 3G.

ROWLAND: It depends on whether or not the network is operating in that area for those particular carriers. But as an overall answer: in areas that currently only have a 3G signal, Telstra has committed to providing 4G coverage before the closure of the 3G network. Optus has also indicated its intention that there'll be no loss of coverage following the 3G switch over as well. 

But I can assure your listeners that through my Department we are monitoring this closely. The Working Group has been very effective in a short period of time to get the carriers focused on that continuity of service and also on the safety of providing access to Triple Zero. But certainly, these are very valid questions. The carriers have been planning for this for some time, for many years. And now that we're getting down to that countdown to 1 September, your listeners can be assured that we will continue to be very closely engaged with the carriers because there is that very legitimate expectation of there not being a degradation of service.

HOOK: Thank you very much. Michelle Rowland is Minister for Communications.