ACL: Info on Upcoming Changes to 3G Wireless Network Affecting Older Devices

  • Upcoming Changes to 3G Wireless Network

Did you know that service providers will be shutting down their 3G networks beginning in early 2022?

  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has developed a consumer guide with more information on the 3G shutdown. Anticipated shutdown dates by provider include: AT&T = on 2/22/22; TMobile/Sprint = between March-July; and Verizon = by end of the year.  Providers like Boost, Cricket, and Straight Talk also use the networks of the larger providers. The FCC encourages customers of any network to contact their carrier for more information. Many carriers may offer free or low-cost replacement phones or devices.
  • This will affect older devices made for the 3G network, including but not limited to:
    • cell phones
    • tablets
    • personal emergency response system devices
    • smart watches
    • assistive technology devices with SIM cards (possibly older augmentative communication devices and braille note takers)
    • certain medical devices
    • home alarm systems, and more.
  • These devices on 3G networks will not be able to send texts, use data, or make or receive phone calls, including calls to 9-1-1.
  • These devices may still be able to access services via a public or personal Wi-Fi network.
  • Some devices may only require a software update to enable VoLTE (HD Voice) or other advanced services.

Older adults, people with disabilities, and people on fixed incomes may be affected.

What Can Consumers Do?

  • Contact your or doctor for any concerns with a medical device; or your mobile provider, or the provider’s website for more information about their 3G retirement plan.
  • You may need to upgrade to a newer device to ensure that you can stay connected.  Providers may be willing to help people upgrade if their current device is 3G; however, globally we are experiencing a microchip shortage – so could be shortages in general. 
  • Consumers with phones older than ~2013-2014, such as an iPhone 6 or a Samsung Galaxy S4 should contact their mobile carrier to determine if their device will be affected.  To be safe, any device purchased before 2019 could be checked.
  • If you purchased your phone independent of a mobile provider, you should be able to check whether your device is 4G LTE (with VoLTE or HD Voice) enabled by checking your phone’s settings or user manual, or by searching your phone’s model number on the internet, to determine whether you need to purchase a new device or install a software update.
  • If you did not purchase your phone through a mobile provider, you may be able to check whether your device is 4G LTE (with VoLTE or HD Voice) enabled. This would help you determine if you need to purchase a new device or install a software update. To check, use your phone’s settings and find the About Phone option. You can also search for this information in your phone’s user manual or by searching your phone’s model number on the Internet.

Other considerations for the Aging Network:

  • If your SUA/AAA offers Personal Emergency Response System devices – if not done already, it may be prudent to see if they have been upgraded.  They won’t be helpful to someone who is relying on it – if it no longer works.
  • This is not a new issue as awareness about the planned shutdown has been circulating for some time, however, not everyone knows or even understands what this entails.  It is about more than just cell phones. 
  • Many Aging & Disability Network efforts focused on reducing social isolation during the pandemic & may have involved purchasing devices for older adults to use.  If not done already, it may be prudent to see if these devices will be impacted by these 3G shutdowns. 
  • Check in with your state’s Assistive Technology program.  They may already have informational or additional resources available that could be helpful in getting the word out about this change, or other ideas.
  • Stores and individuals may still be selling these devices to older adults who think they are getting a really good deal – only to encounter this 3G shutdown shortly.  In addition, if faced with needing to replace a device, encouraging folks to be savvy consumers such as asking for discounts, or providing tips to avoid “upselling” may be helpful.
  • Be on the lookout for scam artists who could potentially attempt to use this as an opportunity to take advantage of folks. 
  • If someone is planning to recycle or dispose of old devices – they would be well served to wipe any personal information from the device before discarding so as to protect themselves.  Consider sharing resources for recycling technology & removing personal information on electronic devices before disposal.

Additional Resources: