Mobile service providers are planning on “sunsetting” their 3G networks in 2022. This means they’re phasing out service for phones and other devices that run only on 3G.
Several VERIFY viewers have asked what that means for them and if they’ll need to replace their 3G phones.
Will people with 3G phones have to replace them with 4G or 5G phones?
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
- David Burgess, cellular technology expert
- CTIA, an association that represents the wireless communications industry
- Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile
Yes, people with 3G-only phones will need to replace their phones with a newer model to get service.
WHAT WE FOUND
According to the FCC, mobile providers will phase out their 3G networks as early as Jan. 1, 2022. T-Mobile shut down Sprint’s 3G network on Jan. 1, 2022, AT&T will shut down its 3G network by February 2022, T-Mobile will then shut down its own 3G network on July 1, 2022, and Verizon will shut down its 3G network by Dec. 31, 2022. The FCC adds that many other carriers use the Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile networks, so customers of other providers may be affected.
The FCC says this means many older cell phones will be unable to send texts, make or receive calls or use data services, and will have no access to 911. This will affect 3G phones as well as “certain older 4G mobile phones that do not support Voice over LTE (VoLTE or HD Voice).”
“Anything that doesn't support 4G or 5G will just quit working once those networks are phased out,” said cellular technology expert David Burgess.
He said 3G is being phased out because it’s less spectrally efficient than 4G or 5G.
“This was the idea with 3G,” Burgess said. “In reality, 3G was a bit of a disappointment. The spectral efficiency in the real world for 3G was not as high as engineers were expecting when the system was first designed. But now we have 4G, which is even more efficient in its use of spectrum and actually comes much closer to the performance expectations.”
The FCC said this shift is to make room for newer technology, including 5G. However, people with 3G phones don’t have to upgrade to 5G — 4G works just fine.
“The sunset of 3G does not impact our 4G network,” a Verizon spokesperson said. “We are still heavily investing in our 4G network and will for many years to come.”
The CTIA, which represents the wireless communications industry, says fewer than 9% of U.S. wireless connections are 2G or 3G subscriptions, and Verizon says more than 99% of its customers are using 4G LTE or 5G.
AT&T provides a list of which devices will continue to work on its network after 3G is phased out. The iPhone 6 and later models, the Galaxy S4 Mini and later Samsung Galaxy models and the Pixel 2 and later Google Pixel models will all continue to work after the 3G phase-out. A number of phones from other brands, including Motorola and LG, will also continue to work. Older phones than those listed will need to be replaced.
The major cellular providers have been preparing for this shift for years, which means very few of their customers remain on 3G networks today.
Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile give instructions and contact information to figure out if you need to replace your phone, and T-Mobile says it will directly contact all affected customers.
More from VERIFY: Yes, 5G can interfere with airplanes, but it’s unclear whether it will cause ‘harmful interference’