3G cell service – it was a big deal when it first rolled out…in the early-mid 2000s.
3G has continued to serve cell customers since it was introduced, alongside its next-generation cousins 4G, commonly known as LTE, and the newest generation of cell service – 5G.
Unless you’re traveling a lot into more rural areas, where 4G hasn’t been turned on yet, you may not even know 3G still exists.
However, as 5G service switches on nationwide, all the major cell carriers are shutting down 3G service: AT&T, T-Mobile (which merged with Sprint in April 2020 and absorbed its network), and Verizon.
Here are each carrier’s plans for shutting down 3G and how it could impact you.
AT&T will be shutting down 3G service by February 2022, with plans to repurpose it for 5G service.
The carrier has a list of devices that will work on the combined 4G/5G network after the shutdown.
If your phone is not on that list, it won’t work after AT&T phases out 3G.
However, the carrier said there are options for customers on those legacy devices.
- Log into their AT&T account online and check for special deals on 4G-compatiable phones; some may be a free upgrade
- Upgrade to a phone of the customer’s choice
- Cancel service if the line is unused
T-Mobile (including pre-merger Sprint):
T-Mobile announced they will be shutting down Sprint’s legacy 3G network on January 1, 2022, with the legacy T-Mobile 3G network to follow by July 1, 2022.
Both networks are being repurposed for what the carrier calls advanced 4G and 5G service.
Affected pre-merger Sprint customers will be contacted by T-Mobile and the carrier stated they will be able to receive 4G/5G service from T-Mobile for the same cost or less and be able to upgrade to a 4G compatible device at no cost.
Pre-merger Sprint customers can log into their account on the Sprint website, or call customer service at (888) 211-4727 to see their offers; some may even include a free upgrade to a 5G phone.
Pre-merger T-Mobile customers should contact customer service for assistance – dial 611 from their cell phone or (800) T-MOBILE (800-866-2453).
Over on Verizon, the 3G network will shut down completely by December 31, 2022 – the final of three extensions the company has made.
As of Mar. 30, Verizon reported that less than 1% of devices on the Verizon network are using legacy 3G service; a Verizon spokesperson said the vast majority of those are smart home devices, such as smart thermostats, smart lightbulbs, etc.
Since March, Verizon has not allowed any new customers on the network with service that isn’t 4G/5G.
A list of devices that will not work following the shutdown can be found on the Verizon website.
The carrier is offering promotions and deals to migrate customers to 4G/5G service; customers should contact customer service – 611 on their mobile phone or (800) 922-0204 – to see what they may qualify for.
Regardless of cell carrier, there’s one universal number even deactivated phones have been able to traditionally dial: 911.
However, Verizon and AT&T both said with the loss of 3G service, their customers won’t be able to dial 911 from any 3G phone.
Morgan County 911 Director Jeanie Pharis said it becomes a major problem for first responders.
Pharis said that as a 911 center, Morgan County 911 has no control once the 3G cell network shuts down and will not be able to dispatch emergency services to those who don’t have the ability to call them.
She encouraged those who have older phones that aren’t 4G-capable to contact their carrier and upgrade before the 3G networks shut down.