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4 August 2023

Farewell to the 3G Network

The history of 3G cellular networks in Australia

The development of 3G cellular networks in Australia began in the early 2000s, with the first 3G network launching in 2003 by the telecommunications provider Hutchison, under the brand “3”.  This network was based on the WCDMA technology and initially offered coverage in major cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.  3G networks in Australia brought significant improvements to mobile services, with faster data speeds and better voice quality.  It also enabled new mobile applications such as video calling, mobile internet browsing and mobile TV.

Telstra and Optus, soon after launched their own 3G networks.  Telstra launched its 3G network in 2005, based on the CDMA2000 technology, while Optus launched its 3G network in 2006, based on the WCDMA technology.  The rollout of 3G networks in Australia encountered a multitude of challenges, with the tower locations for GSM network deemed not optimal for WCDMA and the cost and time to upgrade the legacy infrastructure and the need to obtain additional spectrum licenses more suited to how 3G worked.  Additionally, there were initial challenges with network coverage, particularly in regional areas, and the cost of 3G services was initially higher than that of 2G services.  Over time the availability and affordability of 3G services grew, leading to a significant increase in adoption among Australian consumers.  By the late 2000s, the majority of mobile phones sold in Australia were 3G-capable, and 3G networks were providing coverage to the majority of the population and ultimately this led to the retirement of 2G technology.

3G is now being overtaken by 4G and the emerging 5G networks and 3G is soon to be retired.  The migration from 3G to 4G and 5 is now formally underway.  In 2022 Optus switched off the Band 1 (2100MHz) 3G technology; Telstra has done that bit even earlier.  Both still operate 3G on 850MHz (B5) and 900MHz (B8) but around Australia sites are steadily being moved away from 3G to 4G and 5G with every passing week.  The turn off dates are when the final sites on each network will cease to operate; users of 3G devices and on these networks are experiencing the impact of fewer resources now.

With the development of 4G networks in the 2010s and teens, the importance of 3G networks in Australia began to decline, and Australian telecommunication providers began to phase out their 3G networks and to refarm and reorganise the spectrum licences they hold to be more useful for 4G and 5G use.  In 2019, Telstra became the first major Australian telco provider to notify its intention to switch off its 3G network, and both Optus and Vodafone followed with their own announcements.

Each has set a different date for their respective network sunsets (dates are subject to change, but accurate at the time of publishing).

TPG Dec 2023
Telstra June 2024
Optus Sept 2024

There are many devices still in use that are only capable of operating on 3G and it is wise to audit business fleets and aid them in identifying kit that is going to cease connecting and to replace them proactively and in a planned manner.  Progility Technologies is a trusted supplier in many technologies (inbuilding coverage, location-based services etc.) and we can support you and your business in this important transition.

So, what exactly is WCDMA?

Wideband Code Division Multiple Access was derived from a US Department of Defence communications language and coding invented during the Korean war, which became essential with the uptake of shoulder fired guided rockets.  US grunts observed that their shoulder fired rockets were liable to false-launch if they keyed the transmitter of their battlefield radios in just the wrong circumstances.  Signaling with characteristics of very low spurious energy was needed with strong inbuilt encryption too.  CDMA was invented so radios could co-exist close with missile launchers.  It took 40+ years for it to be commercialised though as CDMA used a lot of computing power, many IC’s which were bulky, power hungry and were generally too unwieldy for a handheld mobile-phone.

After CDMA, an enhancement supporting higher speeds mobile data and introductory mobile broadband was known as Wideband CDMA = WCDMA

Wimax and LTE (4G) technologies overtook WCDMA which is no longer used in the mainstream.