From conveniently connecting us to people across the world to serving as a portable GPS device, our phones are easily one of our most vital resources. And while we all use our devices for similar purposes, many of us stick by a particular phone carrier, like Verizon or AT&T, whether for the faster internet speeds or more reliable customer service. But no matter what service you use, millions of people in the U.S. are about to be affected by a major change, as most providers are planning to get rid of one service. Read on to find out what you may be losing soon.
Major phone companies are planning to get rid of 3G service soon.
As phone companies tout their new 5G services, many are planning to cut all ties with the oldest generation of wireless technology still available. According to The Washington Post, 3G network technology has been around in the U.S. for nearly two decades, with Verizon launching the first 3G network in 2002. After that, 4G rolled out in 2010, and in 2019, carriers started moving to 5G networks and smartphones.
"The reason the carriers would like to get rid of old legacy tech is to free up that wireless spectrum," Ian Foff, the vice president of analysis at mobile analytics firm Opensignal, explained to The Washington Post. "If you switch off older tech in most markets, most countries, your spectrum license allows you to use that with newer networks, like 4G and 5G."
All companies will retire their 3G network by next year.
All of the major phone carriers are planning to shut down their older 3G networks sometime next year, per The Washington Post. AT&T customers will be some of the first to lose their service, as the mobile carrier says it will finish shutting down its 3G network by Feb. 2022. Verizon, on the other hand, says it doesn't plan to finish shutting down until Dec. 31, 2022. T-Mobile, which also owns Sprint, is ending Sprint's 3G Network by Jan. 1, Sprint's LTE network by June 30, and T-Mobile's 3G network by July 1. Boost, Cricket, Straight Talk and other discount phone services piggyback off major carrier networks, and will cut off 3G services next year at some point as well, according to AARP.
"As we move closer to the shutoff date, customers still accessing the 3G network may experience a degradation or complete loss of service, and our service centers will only be able to offer extremely limited troubleshooting help on these older devices," Verizon vice president Mike Haberman wrote in a statement.
Millions of phone users will need new devices soon.
Once 3G services go black, millions of phone users will be unable to connect if they have not switched over. Roger Entner, a telecom analyst for Recon Analytics in Dedham, Massachusetts, told AARP that he estimates that about 5 to 10 million people in the U.S. still use 3G phones.
"As a result, many older cell phones will be unable to make or receive calls and texts, including calls to 911, or use data services," the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warned in an Aug. 23 announcement. According to AARP, your chances of being cut off depend on your specific device, but there are some phones only capable of using 3G networks. If you have an iPhone 5 or older or a Samsung Galaxy S4 or older, you won't be able to make or receive regular calls once 3G is phased out.
"Some carrier websites provide lists of devices that will no longer be supported after 3G networks are shut down. You may need to upgrade to a newer device to ensure that you can stay connected, and carriers may be offering discounted or free upgrades to help consumers who need to upgrade their phones," the FCC said.
It might not just be your phone at risk.
Your phone is not the only device at risk, however. According to the FCC, other devices, like certain medical devices, tablets, smart watches, vehicle SOS services, home security systems, and other connected products, might also be using 3G network services. As a result, they will lose major capabilities, too.
"Don't forget about devices that use cellular connectivity as a back-up when a wired internet connection goes down," the agency warned. "If the device is not labeled, contact the monitoring company or other service provider to confirm how the device connects and whether your device may be impacted."