Practical Techie: Third generation cell phones will phase out
It’s written on the digital wall: Most major telecom companies are phasing out third-generation networks by February 2022. Network providers are shutting off 3G to repurpose the finite spectrum or the airwaves allotted by the Federal Communications Commission to send wireless signals.
This means cell phones that rely solely on a 3G connection are most likely to end up relegated to the slower 2G network that remains active as a working fallback.
Technically, after the 3G shuts down, data-only devices will work if they support 4G LTE or 5G speeds and higher.
Yet, in practical terms, these constant shifts in technology affect user budgets. Let’s see how it began.
BACK — In the early 1980s, the first wave of wireless telephony standards rolled out. This innovative tech was dubbed 1G, capable of handling audio transmissions over the air. But this was analog technology that became obsolete by 1991. Next came 2G. Soon, 3G would overtake it as early as 2001, more than tripling data transfer speeds, only later outdone by the widely adopted 4G network.
Inevitably, the most significant three US mobile providers are all phasing out their lower networks to expand broadband coverage sooner or later.
VERIZON — Verizon’s 3G network shutdown plans have repeatedly been “put on hold,” according to The Verge.com. At this point, their 3G network is now indefinitely maintained.
In 2018, the company no longer allowed customers to activate new 3G phones on its network or offer prepaid 3G service.
AT&T — It has specified that they intend to take their 3G network off the market by early 2022. Unlike Verizon, their projected plans have remained consistent so far. It’s worth mentioning your phone must be compatible with their HD Voice service, as well.
T-MOBILE — January 2021 defined the original shutdown date for T-Mobile’s (merged with Sprint) UMTS 3G network. However, it’s now anticipated sometime in February 2022. This coincides with AT&T’s 3G deactivation plans. However, T-Mobile has explicitly mentioned that their 2G network will also stop working in December of 2022.
SERVICE — In essence, the newer 4G network will continue to exist for a long time, and most consumer smartphones are already designed to support 4G data transmission standards.
But… what should you do to avoid a service disruption?
If you choose not to seek a suitable cell phone upgrade, then service may be interrupted at inconvenient times. If a user decides to get a new cell phone independently, it will need to pay special attention to the band compatibility of the device.
Consulting with a carrier is the best way to know.
ELDERS — As carriers push to usher in the next era in wireless, millions of people, including many older adults, still rely on phones and other devices that tap into 3G, including the ability to call 911.
When the 3G network goes dark by February, customers still accessing the 3G network will experience degradation or complete loss of service. Even if the older folks contract any other minor discount provider of cell service, they should understand that it will not help because these firms piggyback off the major carrier networks.
Estimates are that up to 10 million elderly cell phone subscribers in the US mainland and Puerto Rico who have older devices (dating from 2012 or before) needing to upgrade as carriers adjust their signals.
DEVICES — Jettisoning 3G will also impact medical devices, tablets, smartwatches, in-car SOS services, Kindle readers, and some home security products. This prompted the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to file before the FCC a petition to delay the 3G shutdown. It is still pending. At least until the end of 2022, those with alarm monitoring and emergency response systems attached to 3G must seek alternatives.