Around 283,000 older 4G phones in Australia are still at risk of being blocked from calling Triple-0 as telcos continue to shut down 3G networks, according to an industry working group reporting to the federal government.

Industry estimates provided to the government earlier this year suggested the number of impacted devices was between 740,000 and 1 million.

That number has now been revised down, but Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said it was “still too high”.

The government says it is concerned about a sub-set of 4G phones which will continue to work normally after remaining 3G networks are shut down, but will still default to 3G for Triple-0 calls because of the way they are configured.

Many of these devices are older, purchased overseas, or don’t support VoLTE (voice over LTE) — which is what most modern phones use to send voice calls over the same 4G and 5G channels that also carry other mobile data.

TPG, which owns Vodafone, shut down its 3G network between December 2023 and January 2024.

Telstra has delayed its 3G switch-off until 31 August, while Optus said it was planning to begin switching off its 3G network from 1 September.

Rowland said the government supported continued shutdowns of 3G networks, “but it needs to be done in a safer way”.

“All Australians should be aware that some 4G phones are configured by their manufacturer to default to 3G for Triple-0 calls,” she said.

“That means these devices will appear to work normally after the switchover, until Australians can least afford to realise there is an issue.”

Industry launches ‘Check My Device’ tool

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), which represents the nation’s telco industry, launched a free online tool on Thursday called Check My Device, which allows people to quickly check if their phone will be impacted by upcoming 3G shutdowns.

The site works by checking a device’s unique 15-digit IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, which can be accessed by typing *#06# into your phone’s dialler.

Telstra and Optus customers can also text ‘3’ to ‘3498’ and their provider will respond with advice on whether or not their device will be impacted.

The Check My Device tool does not ask for any personal information from the user, works on any mobile network, and can be translated into 11 different languages, the AMTA said.

The association said the tool may advise a user to contact their service provider directly to double-check if their handset will still be able to make emergency calls.

Telstra has delayed its 3G switch-off until 31 August. Photo: Telstra / Supplied

AMTA has also recommended using Check My Device prior to purchasing a device by asking the seller to share the IMEI number, as some imported devices won’t support Triple-0 calls when 3G is completely shut down.

Mobile phone users should not call Triple-0 to check their device, AMTA said, and encouraged people with affected or old devices to recycle them through MobileMuster.

“This new industry tool is another useful way Australians can check to see if their device may be impacted,” Rowland said.

“If you have been contacted by your mobile phone provider alerting you of impact to your service, it is important you respond and take action. "

AMTA’s CEO Louise Hyland said it was important for Australians not to delay checking their devices, especially if their devices are older models.

“It is important to note that while 3G networks are still in operation, those affected mobile devices will continue to connect to any available 3G network while in coverage, to make emergency calls to Triple-0,” she said.

“However, once the 3G networks are fully closed at the end of the year, these phones will not be able to make emergency calls.

“It is crucial to act now if you know you have an older mobile device and you haven’t already upgraded.”

Govt ‘very closely’ monitoring regional coverage

Hyland said while telcos were promising to expand their coverage “to match or exceed 3G coverage”, the transition away from 3G “may pose difficulties for some users, particularly in regional and remote communities”.

“We urge Australians to act now to ensure they are taking the necessary steps to stay connected,” she said.

Minister Rowland told ABC News on Thursday that the government was monitoring carriers “very closely” to “make sure that consumers benefit overall from the switchover”.

She also encouraged telcos to join the government’s Mobile Black Spots Program to improve coverage in the regions.

The government’s 2024 Regional Telecommunications Review is currently underway, with those living in regional, rural and remote parts of Australia able to share their views in a survey which opened on 18 June.