OPINION: Connectivity critical as 3G switch off looms

As the 3G switch off looms closer, Telstra invited me on a tour of the Yorke Peninsula last week as they continue to assess the 3G/4G equivalence.

Given the significant concerns raised by grain producers about the switch off, I felt it was important that I joined the visits to grain producers’ properties to hear from them firsthand about connectivity on their farms.

For many growers, Telstra is the only network carrier they can access that provides any coverage in their area.

It’s important to acknowledge the efforts of Telstra for getting out on the road and visiting farmers to talk about any potential issues with the switch over. The staff they sent were senior people involved in the engineering and the technical side of the process and management.

One of the grain producing families we visited were quite shocked to see Telstra people arrive at their property, as their last experience in seeking connectivity help was through an online chat-bot.

Another grain producer we visited told us of a disturbing story where a farmer’s paddock was on fire, but his phone reception was too weak to make a call. He managed to use an app on his phone to send a brief message to say he needed immediate help.

And the main issue for another grain producer on the tour was the replacement of older 3G only technology in their farm machinery and weather stations.

The major telco remains confident that regions currently accessing 3G will be able to access 4G when 3G dies a long-awaited death for Telstra on 30 June 2024. From the frank feedback I’ve received, many farmers remain highly sceptical, but time will tell.

In my opinion, there’s been an underestimation of just how much old technology is out there on farms that can only pick up a 3G signal and which will need to be replaced. That’s a major job in itself.

Every grain producer we visited told us that they still use UHF in a lot of circumstances as it’s the most reliable form of communication.

Come 1 July 2024 and 3G no longer exists, South Australian grain producers need to be able to at least have a reliable 4G signal. These businesses need connectivity and phone reception they can rely on to run their operations.

We cannot afford to be thrown back into the dark ages when it comes to connectivity.