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Australian 2G switch off: What you should do to prepare

If you’re using an older phone, your telco may have advised you of the upcoming death of the 2G mobile network. Here’s what you need to know to be ready.

Newer phones use 3G or 4G networks, but there’s a certain logic to keeping an older handset in operation if it does everything that you need it to do. That's presuming your needs are based around telephony, texting and intermittent games of Snake.

Snake is still a classic and will keep on rocking for as long as your handset does. But the bad news here is that your phone may soon become an exclusive games device, with two of the three major networks due to switch off their 2G services within the next 12 months.

When will 2G network services cease?

The precise date on which your older 2G-only phone loses connectivity will vary depending on your carrier. Bear in mind that there are only three actual networks that operate mobile telephony services in Australia, so if you’re using another brand, it’s actually an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) running on one of those three networks. Also note that in some rare cases, this change could impact on 3G phones that operate on specific 3G frequencies only. Refer to your phone model and check any communication from your provider to find out if you're affected.

Telstra customers (and those of subsidiary/MVNO brands such as ALDImobile, Woolworths Mobile, CMobile Blue and Southern Classic) only have until 1 December 2016 before 2G connectivity ceases.

If you’re an Optus customer (or a customer of subsidiary/MVNO brands such as Virgin Mobile, amaysim, Vaya, Dodo and others), you’ve got a little while longer to use your 2G-only handset. Optus has indicated that it will cease 2G services on 1 April 2017.

Vodafone customers (or those on its subsidiary/MVNO brands such as Lebara, Kogan Mobile and TPG) have until 30 September 2017, when Vodafone becomes the last of the three providers to kill off 2G.

Can’t recall which carrier your MVNO uses? Here’s the current rundown of carriers and their parent networks:

Primary NetworkNetwork used by these brands
TelstraTelstra, Boost, ALDIMobile, Better Life Mobile, Cmobile (Blue), Lycamobile, MeU Mobile, Southern, Telechoice, Think (Classic), Woolworths Mobile
OptusOptus, Virgin Mobile, amaysim, Barefoot Telecom, Bendigo Bank Telecom, Coles Mobile, Dodo, Exetel, Jeenee, iiNet, LiveConnected, OVO, Southern, Vaya, Yomojo
VodafoneVodafone, Cmobile (Red), Hello Mobile, GoTalk, KISS Mobile, Kogan Mobile, Lebara, TPG, Think (Ultimate, Swift, Simple 12),

What can I do when my 2G services stop working?

A 2G-only phone with no phone service isn’t much more than a battery-powered contacts list and potential Snake-playing machine. So the death of 2G networks equates to the death of your handset if it can’t connect to the wider 3G/4G networks. Given how long it has been since 2G-only phones were sold in Australia, your phone has probably had a good life up until now. But it would be wise to prepare yourself for continuing telephony services, as well as for what to do with the handset.

The only practical long-term option is to get a new 3G or 4G capable handset. You could opt for a device on a contract to lower its overall purchase price – our mobile phone finder can help you find the best mobile plan for you from every Australian carrier. Alternatively, you could buy a handset outright and go on either a post-paid month to month contract, or an outright prepaid plan.

What about the information on my old phone?

If you’ve got older texts or contact details on your existing handset, now is the time to back up that information, because you won't be able to simply pop your existing 2G phone SIM into your new device. You’ll almost certainly end up needing a new (and probably smaller) SIM card for your new phone, so make sure you read all about the different SIM card sizes.

You’ll also need to track down software (and possibly a connection cable) to transfer any data you may have on your older phone. Manufacturer pages are the best bet for finding connection software, as well as the details for any data cable that you might need. If you're very lucky and you still have the original packaging, it's worth checking in there as a data cable may have been provided with your handset when you first got it.

What can I do if the software won’t work or I can’t get a cable?

If your phone’s software is no longer available, won’t talk to your PC or Mac, or if you can’t source a compatible cable to connect your phone to your PC, you do still have a few options for transferring your phone’s internal memory to a new device.

If you’ve got a camera phone, you may be able to send any pictures you’ve taken out as MMS messages to your contacts; pick one with a 3G/4G handset and it’s likely they’ll then be able to save the photo for you to an external device. This isn’t guaranteed, however, because some carriers have already switched off access to MMS and Internet features for older devices.

For more text-based content such as contacts, you can always type your contact groups into a spreadsheet or even onto a notepad to then match them to your new device. If you do save contacts as a spreadsheet, there are apps that can convert a simple .CSV file into formats that your phone will automatically read.

Image: Shutterstock

Alex Kidman

Alex is the Telco Editor at finder.com.au. He's been writing about consumer technology topics for the best part of two decades, and enjoys breaking down complex topics into their component parts.

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