3G is shutting down and some of your basic technologies may soon become unusable.
What drove the evolution of how we use, interact with, and communicate with technology 20 years ago will be officially retired by the end of 2022, with major US airlines reusing their satellites throughout the year. In its place: 5G, the next generation network that promises much faster speeds than 4G LTE, a more unified system of artificial intelligence (AI), and the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT).
So what does all this mean for older devices like cell phones, alarms, and GPS systems that thrive on the 3G spectrum? Frankly, many network-dependent features will become obsolete, which presents some unexpected risks. Fortunately, there are steps you and your loved ones can take to safely transition from old age to the protective technology of the future. In some cases, manufacturers may be able to give your old hardware new life through software upgrades.
Here’s everything you need to know about 3G sunset, how it will affect the technology you use, and what you can do to stay afloat in the ever-changing landscape.
When will telecom companies shut down the 3G network?
While carriers have been planning to shut down 3G since 4G LTE took over (and potentially 5G being another catalyst), the agenda has paused during the pandemic. Over the past two years, 3G-based services such as home security systems and technology for seniors have become more important than ever, preventing telecommunications companies from shutting down. That’s, until 2022, with major US airlines finally giving up and setting new closing dates that span the year.
- AT&T is the first of the Big Three, shutting down its 3G network on February 22, 2022.
- T-Mobile pushed the 3G shutdown to July 1, 2022, after initial planning for an October shutdown in 2021.
- Sprint, now merged with T-Mobile, will shut down its 3G network on May 31, 2022.
- Verizon’s 3G network will shutdown December 31, 2022. The carrier has clarified that “the date will not be extended again.”
You can find more information regarding when to shut down 3G networks on the FCC website.
Will my phone still work?
For the most part of the 3G era, smartphones have enabled users to surf the web, share viral videos, update statuses, and connect with people from all over the world. All this remains possible through 4G LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi networks. With 3G turned off, the iPhone 3GS, for example, won’t be able to make calls or text messages, but it can still connect to Wi-Fi to access Internet-based apps.
According to CTIA, “Less than nine percent of wireless connections in the United States are 2G or 3G subscriptions.” If you are using a smartphone launched after 2014, you will likely not experience any setbacks from turning off your 3G network. The same goes for foldable phones released after 2017. Unsure of the year your device was made? The best solution is to check with your local carrier – in person or online – to see if there are any compatibility issues.
MORE: ZDNet’s Top Picks for Cheap 5G Phones
Carriers like T-Mobile and Verizon are also reaching out to 3G customers to help transition to 4G and 5G service plans. We are seeing exchange offers and incentives that will exchange your 3G supported phone for a 5G supported phone for free. And for low-income consumers, the FCC’s Lifeline program will deduct eligible monthly phone and Internet services, making conversion easier.
Generally speaking, if you or a loved one is using an older phone, this is your call to upgrade.
How will the 3G shutdown affect my car?
Besides unleashing the smartphone revolution, 3G has played an essential role in the navigation and alert systems we rely on during our daily commute. With the establishment of the fastest and most reliable 5G network, roadside assistance and emergency incident alerts are among the many network-based features that will be affected by the 3G shutdown. Many cars also have an emergency SOS button which, when pressed, communicates with first responders via 3G. This, too, will lose the job.
Vehicles from popular automakers like Toyota, Lexus, Nissan, Hyundai, Dodge and more that were released before 2019 are prone to the above issues. The main reason newer models continue to carry 3G receivers, says Roger Lanctote, Director of Automotive Mobility at Strategy Analytics, is to save manufacturing costs for automakers.
To stay ahead of the curve, you’ll need to make sure your car supports or can receive hardware upgrades to connect to the 4G network. As with smartphones, your best bet to stay informed is to consult with your local auto dealer. Although the modification may come in the form of downloadable software or physical parts, it will help keep your vehicle up-to-date and running – especially during times of danger.
More: Why 5G is an important technology for self-driving vehicles
How will this affect my home security?
Over the past decades, security and warning systems have relied on the 3G network to communicate and monitor suspicious activities. With 3G turned off, that line of communication between the home and the service’s central monitoring station is now non-existent, leaving people who live alone and the elderly vulnerable.
Fortunately, over the course of the pandemic, many home security companies have proactively migrated customers from 3G to 4G networks, ensuring that their services continue to operate, even after 3G spectrum is removed. Unlike smartphones and cars that require complete disassembly or upgrades, adding 4G functionality to security systems is as simple as having a technician install an external receiver (usually a box or panel).
If you or someone you know is on a Home Security Plan (ADT, Vivint, SimpliSafe, etc.), a customer representative should contact by phone or mail regarding the transfer. If not, services like ADT allow you to schedule a free appointment over the phone or website to start the transfer.
More: Our Top Picks for Home Security Surveillance
Other technologies that will be affected
Besides the above categories, there are a plethora of tools and services that are based on the older generation network that you may not have been aware of. If you have any of the following, be sure to contact the manufacturer and ask about the next steps. Depending on the age of the product, you may be eligible for a hardware or software upgrade.
- Medical alarms (fall detectors, communication devices, etc.)
- Inventory Tracking
- smart watches
- E-readers (Kindles, Nooks, etc.)
- GPS trackers (including pets)
- marine safety devices
With 3G’s imminent sunset, take a moment in your day to check your devices (as well as those of your loved ones) to make sure everything is up-to-date and future-oriented. As technology advances and new developments replace the old, companies and customers alike must learn, adapt, and embrace change so that the technology we rely on every day can continue to keep ourselves and those around us safe and informed.