The shutdown of the 3G networks in Australia has begun, with Vodafone closing down their network in December last year and Optus and Telstra following suit later this year. Analytics company Opensignal has taken a look at the effects of the 3G shutdown, as well as at network usage across our local telcos.

The analysis of data taken between February and March from Opensignal users with their mobile app installed, shows that overall the experience of Vodafone mobile broadband users improved with the shutdown of 5G.

The Vodafone shutdown was staggered, with 3G service in Western Australia the first to go on December 16, while NSW and the ACT were the last to go, closing the final remnants of the Vodafone 3G network at the end of January this year. 

The shutdown of the Optus and Telstra 3G networks, like the Vodafone shutdown, will also be staggered, with Telstra starting to shut down their 3G network at the end of June, while Optus will begin in September.

With the shutdown of the 3G networks, Vodafone has been free to re-farm the spectrum previously used for those networks to 5G, with Vodafone users seeing an uptick in time connected to 5G increased when compared to August last year. Download and upload speeds also improved, with download speeds improving by ‘two-fifths on both overall and 5G networks — upload speeds have seen more modest improvements of around 10%’ according to Opensignal.

The report also showed the usage of the 3G, 4G and 5G networks across all three telcos, and showed relatively minimal use of the 3G network when compared to 4G and 5G networks. 

It is important to note the data in the Opensignal report is focused on mobile broadband, with the question of connecting to voice networks the subject of an Australian Senate inquiry, looking at how the shutdown of 3G networks affect the ability of users on older 4G devices that do not support Voice over LTE (VoLTE) to perform functions such as calling 000 in an emergency.

If you have been using an older phone it is definitely time to check the specs, though Telstra and Optus appear to be actively approaching users and warning them about the shutdown and that their devices are incompatible for making calls after the shutdown.

On the VoLTE front, Apple users get a good head start here with devices from the iPhone 6, released in 2014 VoLTE compatible, while on the Android side of things it gets a little more muddy.

Samsung’s Galaxy S line began including VoLTE in their Galaxy S7 line in 2016, while Pixel users started seeing VoLTE adoption in the Pixel 3 in 2018. Devices from other makers including Nokia, TCL, OPPO and Motorola have been including VoLTE support since around 2019.

All in all, the 3G switch-off appears to be a good thing on the whole for mobile broadband connectivity, though it highlights the need to check voice compatibility for users who may need it. Have you checked your devices functionality?