For all the talk and excitement around 5G networks, the phasing out of old 3G networks seems to have been lost in the shuffle. Thankfully, the Federal Communications Commission has you covered. Earlier this year, the FCC put out a helpful guide for the public to prepare for the end of 3G networks.
I’ve written about his before, but in case it has slipped your mind let me give a quick refresher on what 3G, 4G, etc. means. If you use a cellphone then you should be familiar enough to know that 3G, 4G, etc. are cellular networks that allow your phone or other mobile device to connect to the internet. The ‘G’ is simply a stand-in for “generation.” Each successive generation of cellular network gets a new designation. So 3G is currently among the oldest functioning cellular networks while 5G is the newest.
Beginning next year, companies will shut down their 3G networks to allow for more widespread 5G coverage. Though the timing will vary by company, Sprint’s 3G network will finish shutting down by Jan. 1, 2022.
This shutdown will impact many older cellphones that rely on 3G networks, as well as some older 4G connected devices that do not support Voice over LTE, according to the FCC. Affected phones will be unable to make or receive calls, including emergency calls to 911, or use data services to connect to the internet.
And it isn’t just cellphones that will be impacted.
Other devices including certain data-connected medical technologies, tablets, smart watches, home security systems and vehicle SOS services using 3G networks will also be impacted. Additionally, devices that use cellular connectivity as a backup if wired internet fails will also be impacted if they rely on 3G networks.
So, what can you do to prepare for the end of 3G? Well, the first thing you’ll want to do is contact your mobile provider for more information about their plan to phase out 3G. Your provider should be able to tell you whether your phone or other connected devices may be affected by the shutdown.
Right now, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint networks have all announced shutdown dates for their 3G networks. Other networks, such as T-Mobile will also be shutting down but have yet to set a firm date. Third-party carriers such as Cricket and Straight Talk often rely on these networks as well and will likely be affected.
And bear in mind, the 2022 deadlines are the dates these companies have set to shut their networks down completely, the process of phasing them out has already begun in many places and certain functionalities may end much sooner than the shutdown dates.
If you are using an older device, it is entirely possible that you will need to upgrade to a newer device to continue with your service. Thankfully, many carriers are offering discounts or free upgrades for affected customers.
If you are concerned about another cellular connected device, you will need to contact the manufacturer to find out if it will be affected by the 3G shutdown. It is also possible that you might be able to search your device’s serial number online to find out if it uses 3G technology.
While the end of 3G networks might be a bummer for some, it will allow greater expanse and eventual ubiquity of 5G networks — which, as expected, are exponentially more powerful.