3G networks are going down

Here's what you need to know

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 2/4/22

UPPER DELAWARE REGION — If you have an older cellphone or network-connected device, that device might stop working by the end of the year. That's the message senior citizens are hearing from …

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3G networks are going down

Here's what you need to know

Posted

UPPER DELAWARE REGION — If you have an older cellphone or network-connected device, that device might stop working by the end of the year. That's the message senior citizens are hearing from offices for the aging throughout the Upper Delaware region. 

The shut-downs are part of a broader national trend, as telecommunications companies transition away from supporting older, 3G networks and the devices that use them. But "We're particularly concerned about our senior citizens, who might only use their 3G cellphones for emergencies," relates Lise-Anne Deoul, Sullivan County's Office for the Aging director. "The loss of a 3G signal means that they won't even be able to call 911, according to the FCC."

Cell phones aren't the only devices at stake. Tablets, smart-watches, home alarm systems, roadside SOS alarms, medical alert devices—if its connected to a network, there's a chance that its about to stop working. 

What's going on?

The reason 3G networks are going away has to do with the rise of newer technology and newer 4G and 5G networks. 

Compared to 3G networks, the 4G networks are much faster and have much more 'bandwidth', allowing many more devices to broadcast and receive an increasing amount of information. The newest 5G networks are faster and more capacious still. The only problem—many devices that were designed to connect to 3G networks can't connect to their 4G or 5G equivalents. 

Until this point, companies have kept their 3G networks up and running as they've developed their 4G and 5G services. That's starting to change; as explains an article from vox.com's recode, telecommunications companies have to run all their wireless networks on sections of the radio spectrum allocated to them by the Federal Communications Commission. The virtual space companies have to work with is limited, and as companies look to expand their 5G networks, they're looking to use the space currently occupied by their 3G networks. 

When is this happening?

Several of the major telecommunications companies have announced that they will shut down their 3G networks in 2022. 

AT&T has announced that it will shut down its 3G network in February. Verizon has announced that its 3G network will be fully retired by December 31, affecting 3G devices and certain 4G devices. 

T-Mobile, which merged with Sprint in April 2020, has announced that it will retire its 3G networks in stages. It will retire Sprint's 3G network by March 31, Sprint's LTE network by June 30 and T-Mobile's 3G network by July 1. It also announced the upcoming retirement of T-Mobile's older 2G network, without setting a specific date. 

Even if your phone or 3G device isn't from one of these companies, it may still be affected by the shutdown of their networks. According to the FCC, mobile carriers such as Cricket, Boost, Straight Talk and several Lifeline providers use the networks maintained by one of the above companies. 

What devices will be affected?

Any devices that rely on a 3G network connection will stop working once that network goes away, including a wide variety of older phone models. This includes phones that aren't subscribed to a network connection, but are kept around to call 911 in case of emergency; the signal those phones need to connect to won't exist after the 3G networks are shut down. 

"Many seniors utilize their cell phones and tablets for entertainment and to stay connected with family and friends. These devices and others are also lifesavers, and they can make a difference when seconds count," says Pennsylvania's Secretary of Aging Robert Torres. "I urge older adults to learn the status of their device's connectivity before it shuts down on them unexpectedly and to find out what actions their carriers may be taking to help them with making a smooth transition to the 5G network."

Besides phones, a wide range of other devices could be affected. Medical devices, tablets, smart watches, roadside assistance systems, home alarm systems and more all might be using a 3G signal, and might need to be replaced. 

IPhones series 5 and older are likely to be affected by the 3G networks going down, in addition to a number of other devices. For more information on specific devices, and for information on replacing a 3G device with a 4G or 5G compatible device, contact your service provider, or visit one of the links below:

Click here to access the FCC's support page on 3G networks

Click here to access AT&T's support page on 3G networks

Click here for information on which devices will work with AT&T's newer networks

Click here to access Verizon's support page on 3G networks

Click here to access T-Mobile's support page on 3G networks

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