Here’s what you need to know
Kami Griffiths has a perfectly fine phone. It’s your standard Samsung Galaxy smartphone with all the important apps, a decent camera, and a screen big enough to watch videos. It’s so good, in fact, she’s had it since 2016 without ever feeling the need to drop hundreds of dollars on an upgrade.
Come next year though, Griffiths won’t have a choice. It’s the current deadline by which the only cellular network her phone can use will shut down forever.
All of the major mobile carriers – AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile – plan to shut down their old 3G networks in 2022. Like millions of people in the United States who use 3G phones and other 3G devices, it will have to buy a new device if she wants to text, make calls or even reach 911.
When those deadlines arrive, Griffith’s own phone might be the least of her problems. Griffiths, who is executive director and co-founder of Community Tech Network – a nonprofit that focuses on digital literacy in San Francisco – is concerned that the group’s clients, a mix of mostly older adults and low-income residents, either find themselves without a working phone, or might have trouble figuring out how to use a new device.
“It’s going to be very difficult for them. They won’t be happy at all,” said Griffiths, who notes that older tech users have a harder time finding new devices. “If it works well, they don’t want to change anything.”
Why is this happening?
3G network technology has been around in the United States for two decades. Verizon launched the country’s first 3G network in 2002, and 4G has been around since 2010. In 2019, carriers slowly started rolling out 5G networks, and soon big companies launched 5G smartphones. Now they have to focus their resources on building these new networks while saving money on maintaining the older ones.
“The reason carriers want to get rid of old, legacy technology is to free up this wireless spectrum,” said Ian Fogg, vice president of analytics at mobile analytics firm Opensignal. “If you turn off old technology in most markets, most countries, your spectrum license allows you to use it with newer networks like 4G and 5G.”
When do the networks stop?
The closing dates start in January 2022 and run throughout the year. At this point the dates are all confirmed and the carriers are proceeding as if they were set in stone. However, the Federal Communications Commission recently accepted comments from groups and individuals concerned about the shutdown, which could cause a delay.
Sprint 3G: January 1, 2022
AT&T 3G: February 22, 2022
Sprint LTE: June 30, 2022
Verizon 3G: December 31, 2022
2G and 3G from T-Mobile: Not yet announced
What happens to 3G phones after this date?
Your phone will no longer be able to make phone calls. Apps and websites will not work over a cellular connection. You will not be able to dial 911. The phone will still be able to operate over WiFi for some tasks.
How do I know if I have a 3G device?
Operators say they have alerted customers who use older phones that services are ending, sending a combination of text messages, letters, phone calls and emails. If you have a service plan and haven’t heard from your carrier, you should be fine, but you can log into your account to verify. If you’re still not sure or wondering about an older device that isn’t on a cellular plan, there are ways to check.
IPhones older than iPhone 6 will no longer work for calls and data, including iPhone 5, 5C, and 5S. If you have a Samsung Galaxy S4 or older, this is a 3G device, but newer models may still require an update to work. If you have other devices not listed here, go to your carrier or manufacturer’s website to find a list of supported phones. Most people don’t have to worry. The vast majority of phones in use are already on 4G and 5G networks. According to the mobile networking industry group GSMA Intelligence, in 2020, only 4% of all connections were over 3G in the United States.
Will it impact anything other than phones?
Yes. Phones are not the only technology affected by the disappearance of these networks. There are e-readers like the Kindle with 3G, portable internet hotspots, portable children’s devices, alarm systems, personal alarm devices, alcohol monitors, and various other internet devices. objects that rely on 3G. There are also non-consumer products such as systems used by the trucking industry and school bus dispatchers. If you have a home security system or medical alert device, like the one that can call for help in the event of a fall, call the company to make sure it’s still taken care of.
How to get a new phone?
Most carriers offer free, low-cost replacement phones to customers with 3G devices, although the exact offers vary. For example, AT & T’s free phone options depend on what’s in stock and will be similar to your current device. If you’re worried about having to familiarize yourself with a new device, look for something that runs the same operating system from the same manufacturer. If you’re ready for a major upgrade, check to see if your carrier has any deals or discounts for the latest smartphones. (Some older phones may continue to work on 4G and 5G networks with a software update and a new SIM card from your carrier.)
What if I really like my flip phone?
Are you still using a 3G phone because you didn’t want to upgrade to a smartphone? Or is the quitting affecting someone in your life who you think might be having difficulty with a newer device? The good news is that there are many new flip phones (aka multifunction phones) out there that work great on next-gen networks. This has only been the norm for two or three years for these devices, so be sure to buy a new device or check network compatibility carefully.
Do I have to cancel my operator plan?
If you decide you’d rather go ahead without a phone than the upgrade, then yes, you should cancel. Most operators will allow you to cancel your plan without any penalty. However, if you forget to cancel your phone plan and don’t switch to a working device, the company won’t automatically stop charging just because you can’t access their network.
So what should I do with this old phone now?
The shutdown of 3G makes millions of devices useless. They won’t make much money on resale sites, but you can try to reuse them. If it’s a smartphone with WiFi, you might not have a phone, but it can still be reused as a cute little TV, portable radio, social media portal, and gaming machine Or at the very least, a wake-up call. Even an old 3G Kindle can still get books if you plug it into your computer and transfer them.
Businesses don’t make it easy to reuse old electronics. They are often locked into proprietary systems, even when they become obsolete. But if you’re willing to break a few rules, you can even try taking them apart and experimenting with software and hardware.
“There isn’t enough attention to this idea that we should try to maintain the things that we have already built and manufacturers don’t have an incentive to do that,” said Nathan Proctor, campaign manager for the right to repair, to the US PIRG public interest group. “Maybe it can’t be a phone anymore, or it can’t be a phone like it used to be, but I’d like to see the opportunity for it to be something.”