Should I be concerned with the upcoming shutdown of the 3G networks?
This question was answered on December 30, 2021. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
It’s hard to remember what a game-changer 3G was when it first rolled out in the early 2000’s, but it made things like music and video streaming a usable service.
For a point of reference, the first iPhone in 2007 wasn’t even cable of using the new 3G technology.
Today, whenever we are forced to use a 3G connection, it seems like nothing is happening compared to what we are used to with 4G and 5G.
All of the major carriers plan on shutting down their 3G networks in 2022, starting with AT&T in February, T-Mobile on its various networks throughout the summer and Verizon at the end of the year..
If any of your devices will only connect through 3G, they may essentially become nearly useless when the shutdown occurs on your carrier’s network.
3G Only Devices Are Rare
Unless you’re still using a flip phone or smartphone that’s really old, you’re most likely using 4G or 5G almost exclusively right now.
Your phone should be displaying how it’s connecting in the upper right corner of the display with things like LTE, 4G or 5G.
That means you’d have to be using something older than an iPhone 6 or a Samsung Galaxy S4 or older Android device in order to be impacted. If you only ever see 3G as your connection method, you may have to upgrade the device.
AT&T has posted a list of devices that they say will work after they shut down their 3G network in February: https://bit.ly/32xAAnU
All of the carriers have stated that they will be alerting customers directly that they know have devices that will stop functioning on their networks.
Not Just Phones
There are devices other than phones that could potentially be impacted such as older e-readers like the Kindle or early generation iPads that have the ability to connect to a cellular network.
Tablets and e-readers that are impacted will still be able to connect via Wi-Fi as will older smartphones, so they won’t be completely useless.
Some older security systems or specialized industrial devices may also be impacted if they can only send information via a 3G connection.
This shutdown is predicted to disproportionately impact low-income and rural users that are either using really old devices or don’t have access to anything other than a 3G signal.
Although various carriers have been upgrading their networks in anticipation of this shutdown, it’s possible that some rural users could still end up with no service when things shut down in their area.
The FCC published an interactive map showing 4G coverage by all of the major networks that rural users can use to determine which carriers will still provide coverage when 3G shuts down: https://bit.ly/31deRAN
The data on the FCC map was as of May 15th of 2021 while other resources that rely on user-reported data such as Root Metrics Coverage Maps (https://bit.ly/3FCx9dL) may also be a useful evaluation tool for rural users.
About the author
Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on December 30, 2021