The Federal Minister for Communications has called all three mobile network providers to the headmasters office to discuss the shutdown of the 3G mobile networks over concerns that some phones in use today will not be capable of making Triple-Zero calls after the 3G shutdown – even though they are 4G enabled phones.

The new “Working Group” being created by the Minister’s office will bring together representatives from Telstra, Optus and TPG Telecom to discuss the issue in an effort to ensure there are no issues post shutdown with Triple-Zero access.

Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP said “Supporting Australians’ access to Triple Zero is critical.
“While the Government supports the safe switchover from 3G, it is important Australians are aware that some devices in the mobile market are not appropriately configured to contact emergency services on the 4G network.
“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 provide regular advice to Government on the number of potentially affected devices and customers in the market.
“The Government will continue to monitor this issue closely and consider options under law if warranted in the public interest.
“I would encourage Australians who think their device may be impacted to reach out to their service provider for more information”.

For their part, Telstra, the next to shut down their 3G Network (on June 30, after TPG/Vodafone shut down at the end of last year), say they are across the issue. A Telstra Spokesperson telling EFTM “We’re working closely with other mobile networks operators, the ACMA and the Federal Government to help manage Australia’s transition from 3G to 4G/5G. It’s a significant investment by the mobile operators in the connectivity and future productivity of the country through increased speed, capacity and efficiency. We can’t deliver these improvements across our networks without closing 3G.

“Since announcing the shutdown of our 3G network in 2019, the vast majority of customers have upgraded their mobile devices. This is reflected by the fact that 3G now accounts for only 1% of our total mobile network traffic. We are working very hard to ensure that all areas that currently only have 3G coverage get 4G coverage before we close the 3G network on 30 June. More than 98% of our mobile sites already have 4G installed.

As noted by Telstra, and the Minister – this shutdown has been five years in the making, so should not come as a surprise to anyone.

However, the issue is we’ve been saying to people they need a 4G smartphone – problem is, there are phones out there that can access 4G data, show a 4G symbol on the connectivity screen, but when dialling Triple-Zero use the 3G network.

This is a way of ensuring wider access to emergency connectivity on the handset, but now that we’re moving on from 3G is set to cause an issue.

For a smartphone to work for emergency calls, and generally to work effectively in a post-3G era, it must be “VoLTE” compatible. This stands for Voice over LTE – effectively, your voice calls are made over the LTE (or 4G) data network.

As Telstra explains, “Some older 4G mobile phones require a 3G network to make calls to Triple Zero. This is a hardware feature built into the design of the phone by the manufacturer and it is a global, industry-wide issue that many countries have already worked through as they have closed their 3G networks. Following the closure of Australia’s 3G networks customers with these devices will not be able to make Triple Zero calls despite the device otherwise working normally. To be able to make an emergency call to Triple Zero once the 3G mobile networks are closed, 4G devices must support, and be configured to use, Voice over LTE (VoLTE) emergency calling. Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is the international standard all mobile networks use to carry voice calls over 4G networks. We are contacting customers we have been able to identify as using one of these devices to let them know they need to check their device and will likely need to upgrade.”

The team at EFTM spent several hours yesterday trying to create a definitive list of 4G VoLTE enabled devices, unfortunately this is a difficult task.

Firstly, VoLTE wasn’t widely listed as a feature on many phones in the early days of the technology. Secondly, in some markets the activation of VoLTE was a carrier (network) choice.

So here’s what we believe to be the best advice at this stage.

For iPhone users, any iPhone from 2015 (iPhone 6) onward is VoLTE compatible.

For Samsung Galaxy S smartphone users, devices from the around the S7 onward – in 2016 are VoLTE compatible. This differs when we look down the other ranges like the A series, but if you use 2020 as the benchmark for phone compatibility that would be safe.

Google Pixel devices from Google Pixel 3 seem to be safely VoLTE compatible.

While for Nokia, Motorola and Oppo devices, due to the wide range of low priced and specification models, combined with higher priced models – it’s best that you check with your carrier – however that 2020 benchmark is likely a good guide. Anything before then you should check with your carrier.

Additionally, any grey-imported phone, a phone purchased overseas and brought to Australia is at high risk, as the specifications may differ.

If you contact your telco provider they can look at your network usage and device information and tell you if it is VoLTE compatible.

Don’t wait till it’s too late – find out now.

And, take the time to check in on the devices of your elderly relatives, friends and neighbours. Those people who are complacent about new technology, mainly because they don’t need the latest features and their older phone is still working – they are at the greatest risk here.