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Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman 5 mins read

29 May 2024


Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson interview with Leon Delaney.

Radio 2CC Canberra


Subject: 3G switch-off - small business warned not to be caught short


Leon Delaney

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson, has warned small businesses about the upcoming 3G switch off. That's at the end of August and the beginning of September for the last two remaining telcos that still have 3G. Because we know Vodafone's already switched theirs off. Now the warning is, of course, that the switch off of 3G technology could very well impact on a lot more than just old-fashioned mobile phones.

Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson, good afternoon.

Bruce Billson

Leon, great to be with you and your listeners on this capital day.

Leon Delaney

It's a lovely day today, but it's not going to be quite so lovely on the weekend, is it? I mean, the timing is terrible.

Bruce Billson

Well, it's interesting thinking about the weekend and thinking about the broader Canberra region's audience. I mean, you can think of grape growers and other graziers and the like, who may well use remote technology to monitor weather conditions, rainfall opening and shutting gates. Those sorts of things or asset tracking tools.

So many of these things, including security systems and cameras and the like actually are powered off the 3G network. So, when that closure happens, you could well find yourself caught short.

And I guess my community service message is don't be a 3G casualty, check out your device capacity or something like that.

Leon Delaney

By crikey, Bruce, you really know what you're doing. That was an incredibly masterful segue from weather into the 3G close-down. That was brilliant.

Bruce Billson

Leon, we're living in the moment. You’ve got discerning listeners, and they just don't want, you know, puff and wind from me. They want me to get straight into it.

But that's the reality of it. You know, if you and I were running a transport business and we had tracking devices on our assets or even a hire business. If we're using security cameras, and the one that's probably most omnipresent, if I could use that word, are EFTPOS machines. Some of the earlier version EFTPOS machines at local shops and businesses that are used for merchant payments are powered off the 3G network.

So, when it's shut down, you risk being a 3G casualty if you haven't checked out your device functionality.

Leon Delaney

Now, we've known for quite some time that this is coming, and it's not exactly meant to be a surprise to anybody. But what might be surprising to people is the vast array of devices that might actually be impacted.

It's not just your mobile phone, it's not just your EFTPOS terminal. As you said, security systems, cameras, scanners, routers, tablets, smartwatches, asset tracking tools, even surveying instruments, water and environmental monitoring instruments. I mean, this is a very long list of things that are potentially affected, isn't it?

Bruce Billson

Well, it is. And we know that 3G, whilst it doesn't have the bandwidth or the pipe width that 4G and 5G has, it has good range. It can stretch further. For many people wanting good range and functional connectivity without deep, deep rich data needing to flow through it, 3G has been an attractive option.

We learned some years back, I think you and I were both much younger, when the CDMA network - remember that one?

Leon Delaney

Yes, the good old CDMA network.

Bruce Billson

Same thing happened. A lot of people were sitting there thinking, look, I've got the phone sorted, but why is this vital kit and systems and technology that's central to my business now not working? That’s the thing that I'm most concerned about.

Yes, we have had this 3G discussion for some time, and we've rightly had the discussion about rural and regional and remote communities appreciating the longer reach of a 3G signal and then saying it's vital for emergency services.

But when you're doing those sort of remote telemetry things, measuring the microclimate, soil conditions, rainfall and even looking after assets that rely upon that 3G communications link, that can all happen without too much knowledge. And all of a sudden, you're basically rendered unable to use that technology and your business is harmed.

Leon Delaney

We all saw the chaos when the Optus mobile network went down last year. You know, it's a similar kind of thing if you're not prepared for the change in technology. The thing that really caught me by surprise, though, is apparently, you've pointed out that even some 4G enabled devices actually still rely on elements of 3G. I wouldn't have expected that.

Bruce Billson

Yeah, and this is all about the way spectrum has become available over time. And you see different devices using different types of communications technology to get an efficient and cost-effective outcome. Because for people providing these services, they need to either pay for or have access to the spectrum within those bands. And if you've got only a certain amount of capability, well, that might be cached, if I could use that word, directed into the 4G space, whereas other parts of it might well be serviced by the 3G network.

So, what we're urging people to do is to have a think about that. Really think deeply about what you're using in your small and family and farming business. Contact suppliers just to check in if you're not sure. There's also some helpful websites that both Telstra and Optus are offering, and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association’s got a good one, which is

Leon Delaney

Okay. So, the number for Telstra is 132 200. The number of Optus is 133 937 or get onto the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association website

And I guess after all of this warning, there is no excuse. But the thing that really baffles me, Bruce, is that once upon a time it was enough to just know what you were doing in your own particular field of business. Now you've got to be a tech expert as well. It’s baffling, isn't it?

Bruce Billson

It's the changing nature of our economy because tech and digital engagement, there is research that points to improve productivity, resilience, profitability with the deeper your digital engagement.

So, people have reached for these technologies to improve their productivity, save on the mundane tasks, but it does mean we need to be attuned to those things.

In recent days I've been talking about using social media securely and putting out a bit of a guide for those businesses that rely upon those social media platforms as their primary channel to their customers. And what happens if your account hacked and all of a sudden, it's effectively like your shop being closed and shuttered over because some scammers got in and done nefarious things on your web presence.

These are the sorts of new challenges we’re navigating.

Leon Delaney

Or indeed if Elon Musk purchases your favourite social media platform and then changes the rules and you don't like it anymore.

Bruce Billson

I'll take that as a comment. Hang on, that’s another show.

Leon Delaney

Bruce, thanks very much for your time today. Bruce Billson, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.


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