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If your cell phone is more than a few years old, you may need to upgrade it before your carrier shuts down its 3G network to avoid losing service.

What is it?

Mobile carriers like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are shutting down their networks that rely on older technology to make room for more advanced networks, including 5G. This means older phones and a few other devices will be useless.

The change also means your older phone will lose the ability to make or receive calls and texts, including calls to 911, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Phones that will be affected include 3G cell phones and some 4G phones that don’t support Voice over LTE (Non-VoLTE), but certain medical devices, tablets, smartwatches, vehicle SOS services, home alarm systems and other products that operate utilize 3G.

When will it happen?

Some carriers will be affected as early as January 1, 2022, though plans and timing will vary by carrier and could change. Your best bet is to contact your provider directly.

  • AT&T says it will finish shutting down its 3G network by February 2022.
  • T-Mobile plans to shut down Sprint’s 3G network by March 31, 2022 and Sprint’s 4G LTE network by June 30, 2022. It also announced it will shut down T-Mobile’s 3G network by July 1, 2022, but has not yet announced a shutdown date for its 2G network.
  • Verizon announced they will completely deactivate their 3G network no later than December 31, 2022.

The FCC states that if you don’t see your carrier listed here, you may still be affected. Many carriers – like Cricket, Boost, Straight Talk, and several Lifeline mobile service providers – utilize AT&T’s, Verizon’s, and T-Mobile’s networks.

What do I need to do?

Contact your service provider or visit their website for instructions on shutdown plans and whether your phone or other devices will be affected. You may need to upgrade. Some devices may only require a software update to enable VoLTE (HD voice) or other advanced services.

The important thing is to plan ahead so you don’t lose the ability to make calls, including emergency calls to 911.

Some carriers list specific devices that will be affected by the shutdown, and some may offer discounts or free upgrades to customers who need to do so.

Why is 3G being phased out?

Mobile carriers need to periodically upgrade their networks to use the latest technologies, so older networks like 3G are shut down to make room for spectrum and infrastructure to support new services like 5G.

Additional resources:

Although some providers may offer discounts or special deals on upgrades, other FCC programs might be able to help with the cost of phone or internet services.

The FCC’s Lifeline program provides a discount phone service to qualifying low-income customers. You can find more information on that program here.

On December 31, 2021, the FCC updated its Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Full details of the program can be found here.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program provides a temporary discount of up to $30 per month towards services for eligible households during the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about that program, what it covers and if you’re eligible, click here.