Optus warns of 3G 2100MHz shutdown coming next April

Optus has said it will shift from dual-band 3G at 900MHz and 2100MHz to a single band at 900MHz.

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Image: ACCC

Singaporean-owned Australian telco Optus has said it will be switching off its 2100MHz band for 3G services in April 2022, with the spectrum reallocated to its LTE network.

Consequently, the telco is warning that instead of having a dual-band 3G network using both 900MHz and 2100MHz spectrum, it will after next April only be relying on a single band at 900MHz. This will apply for Optus customers, and retailers that resell its network.

"Customers with a 2100MHz-only 3G device will need to upgrade their device to have 4G LTE capability to access the Optus network, which will provide them a better customer experience than the 2100Mhz 3G network," the company said.

Optus said it would reach out to customers impacted by the change over the coming months, including those with "very old SIM cards".

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said in advice earlier this week that a key competition concern was the lack of spectrum under 1GHz held by Optus, compared to Telstra and TPG, once the 850/900MHz band is cleared out for an upcoming spectrum auction later this year.

"Optus' ability to compete effectively in the mobile services market will likely be constrained if it does not acquire more sub-1GHz band spectrum in the 850/900MHz allocation," the watchdog wrote.

"In particular, there is a risk that Optus may not be able to roll out 5G technology widely and efficiently in Australia in the absence of more sub-1GHz spectrum."

As it currently stands, the ACCC said Telstra holds 46% of all sub-1GHz spectrum in metro areas and 54% in regional areas, TPG has 38% in metro areas and 31% in the regions, with Optus claiming only 15% in metro and regional areas.

"The ACCC considers that the asymmetry of sub-1GHz spectrum holdings between the MNOs [mobile network operators] is likely to have a significant effect on Optus' ability to compete with the other MNOs in the mobiles services market," it said.

"In the short term, Optus and TPG may need additional sub-1GHz band spectrum if they wish to continue to operate their 3G networks. However in the medium to longer term, Optus is the only MNO that does not currently have any sub-1GHz band spectrum that it could feasibly use to deploy 5G services."

Despite the ACCC not recommending for any spectrum to be reserved for any telco, preferring a sub-1GHz limit be imposed to prevent Telstra scooping up too much spectrum, the department answerable to the former Optus executive cum Communications Minister Paul Fletcher opted to set 10Mhz aside for both TPG and Optus in the upper four lots available, where the telcos currently operate under apparatus licences.

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