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Say goodbye to 3G phone service

Is your cell phone more than a few years old? You may need to upgrade quickly. The shutdown of 3G cellular service by all major mobile carriers — AT&T, T-Mobile (which owns Sprint) and Verizon — is underway and will be completed next year. 3G’s long-anticipated sunset will free the airwaves for 5G and other advanced services. This is the good news. The bad news is that if you have a device that relies on the old wireless standard, you will no longer be able to use certain data services, send text messages, or make phone calls, including dialing 911.

Millions of phones and other commonly used products still use 3G, including home security systems, medical devices, and personal emergency response systems. Adding to the confusion, older 4G phones that do not support modern cellular voice technologies, such as Voice Over LTE or HD Voice, are also affected. These customers may need a software upgrade or a new phone.

Downtime varies, but will be completed in January for Sprint’s 3G network. Other operators, including prepaid service providers Cricket, Boost and Straight Talk, are also affected, as they rely on the airwaves of the big three.

Do you need an upgrade? How do you know if your aging phone is at risk? Carriers say they have reminded customers who need to act through direct mail, email and text. Your carrier’s website can provide a list of affected devices. You can also search the model number online and search the product details of the phone including mobile broadband generation (3G, 4G, 5G). If you see that this is a 3G generation phone, you know you are concerned. You can also look for a “3G” icon in the top corner of your phone, but be careful: not all 3G phones have this icon.

If you need to upgrade to a new phone, look for deals. Discounts or, in some cases, free upgrades are available. T-Mobile, for example, offers Sprint 3G customers the same monthly rate for 4G / 5G service and a free device upgrade.

Wondering what to do with your old phone? If it has Wi-Fi capabilities, you can still use it for watching TV or playing internet games. Otherwise, you will probably have to recycle it. Some large retailers, such as Best Buy, offer recycling programs for old electronics. You can check out local recycling programs at www.earth911.com.

Below is the timeline for the termination of 3G services. Once the shutdown is complete, phones and other devices that rely on this standard will no longer be able to make calls or perform other tasks that require a cellular connection.

  • AT&T – February 2022 *
  • Sprint (owned by T-Mobile) – January 1, 2022
    (Sprint LTE shutdown – June 20, 2022)
  • T Mobile – July 1, 2022
  • Verizon – December 31, 2022

* AT&T did not provide a specific February 2022 date for its shutdown.

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