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Vulnerable Australians should not rely on the 3G network

Providers using assistive devices such as medical alarms that are reliant on the 3G network now have just under 36 months to upgrade to 4G. 

Covering a total of 99.4 per cent of the Australian population, Telstra has the largest mobile network in the country and will cease its 3G network in June 2024, in order to expand its 4G footprint.

Telstra previously ran its 3G services across the dual-frequency bands 850MHz and 2100MHz, but shut down its 2100MHz services early in 2019. Similarly, Optus has plans to switch its 2100 MHz spectrum currently used for 3G services to its 4G network in April 2022. Optus will no longer offer a dual-band network with 3G services to be offered via its 900 MHz spectrum only.

With band-widths decreasing, reports of congestion across the 3G network are increasing. Personal Emergency Response Services Limited (PERSL) is the industry body representing monitoring services and consumers of medical alarms and Personal Emergency Response Services (PERS) throughout Australia. Since May last year, they’ve been reporting on members' issues with the coverage of the existing 3G mobile wireless network and that 3G services appear to be degrading across Australia. This was especially heightened during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

As a care technology provider, we’ve also heard first hand the issues being faced. Recently, a manager at a retirement village emailed us to say that during times of congestion, she spends "three to four hours rebooting devices" in an attempt to get them back on line. She wrote that she was "happy to do it" because of her devotion to the residents and also her understanding that it was a potential "life and death scenario" if the devices didn’t operate properly.

It’s clear that periods of congestion across the 3G network can cause serious havoc with devices such as medical and PERS alarms. PERSL advises that medical alarms which rely on the 3G network should particularly be used with care and that 3G medical alarms should be upgraded to 4G or replaced as soon as possible. They report that impacts of congestion are being experienced in retirement villages, aged care facilities and users in their own homes utilising 3G cellular services including alarms upgraded from telephone lines to 3G as part of the NBN coordinated Medical Alarms Subsidy Scheme (MASS).

To make matters worse, some 3G alarm devices in the market do not alert the users to issues with their connectivity.  This means that providers run the risk of not even being aware of a potential issue until it’s too late. False alarms and missed test periods are just a couple of possible indicators of network congestion.

All of this leads to the fact that providers should be planning an upgrade of their systems now.

Smart-based 4G Emergency Response Systems are available to optimise the level of care to the community. It’s the perfect time for providers to future proof their operations via a cloud platform, ensuring that at any time the health and functionality of the device is known. Our most vulnerable should have confidence that they can use their devices and contact their monitoring service provider when required, without telecommunication service interruption or delays.  

To find out more and prepare for the shutdown of 3G, download the infographic guide or watch the explainer video.

David Waldie is the founder and managing director at Eevi

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