Two decades ago when most phones just made calls, the first 3G networks ushered in the era of wireless data. They made it possible to use apps on our phones, integrate GPS systems with our cars and do lots of other tasks on the go. But as carriers transitioned to 4G LTE networks and now to 5G, they’re shutting down 3G for good this year. As a result, some devices and services will lose service.
Of the three largest carriers, AT&T went first by shutting down its 3G service on Tuesday, Feb. 22. T-Mobile will follow on March 31, and Verizon will wrap it up on Dec. 31.
How the shutdowns will affect you depends on a few things. If you have a phone released no earlier than 2015, you should be fine. If you’re unsure, each carrier has a full list of devices that will continue to operate on their current network. If you will be affected, your carrier should have told you by now (a process they began years ago) and offered to replace outdated devices with new ones that connect to 4G LTE networks.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, said the number of people using 3G-only phones today is small, only in the hundreds of thousands. He expects that many affected people haven’t upgraded their 3G phones either because they’ve forgotten to do it or they’ve kept an old phone stashed in a glove compartment for emergencies.
If you’re in that group, you will need to act. Older devices that won’t be migrated to 4G LTE or 5G will become functionally useless when 3G goes away for good: They’ll still power on, but won’t be able to connect to a network. And it’s not just phones that will be affected. The shutdowns also will hit techs like auto navigation systems, alarm systems, early e-readers, and another internet of things (IoT) gadgets that have relied on 3G networks for data.