“Any interruption of these services places individuals and families at risk, and AARP believes that disruptions in any telecommunications service due to technology transition are unacceptable,” the comments read. “If AT&T were to voluntarily extend the retirement date for its 3G services until December 31, 2022, and also continue to maintain reliable 3G facilities until that retirement date, it appears to AARP that the risks facing consumers will be mitigated.”
AT&T’s response to the FCC last year indicated that any delay in turning off its 3G service would hinder its expansion of 5G mobile network coverage, and the FCC has not acted to stop the company. As of the end of 2020, about 5 percent of AT&T’s postpaid subscribers were using 3G handheld devices, according to AT&T.
Verizon says less than 1 percent of its customers are still accessing its 3G network. Telecom analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics in Dedham, Massachusetts, estimates 5 million to 10 million people in the U.S. still use 3G phones.
Providers of medical alerts and burglar and fire alarm monitoring services have already experienced the loss of 3G signal in numerous places, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York City, Oklahoma, parts of Texas, Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, according to the alarm industry.
While AT&T — at the urging of the FCC — did craft a partial solution designed to lessen the effects of the 3G stoppage by allowing units that have the capability to roam onto the T-Mobile network until it is shut down July 1, the solution only helps 20 percent to 25 percent of the remaining 2 million alarm and medical systems that still need to be replaced, says Dawit Kahsai, senior legislative representative for AARP.
Is your phone affected?
If you have a device from 2012 or before, using your phone to make calls is on borrowed time though some other features may continue to work. Not just the flip phones and feature phones are affected. Some early smartphones may also be included, and you can’t always tell by the name marketers use.
For example, AT&T points out that a Samsung Galaxy S20 G981U or G981U1 will work on its network after 3G is shut off. But Galaxy S20 models G981F, G981N and G9810 will not work.
AT&T published a lengthy list of models it says will continue to work after 3G is phased out. You can check the device settings to determine which version of a handset you have.
Because you own a smartphone with the 4G label, don’t assume that it will work. Early on, the 4G designation referred to data-only network services, such as sharing photos, social media, browsing the internet and so on. But those 4G phones fell back on older network technology standards for voice calls, Fogg says. Only when VoLTE (Voice over Long Term Evolution) or HD Voice came along did 4G matter for calls, too.
If you still have an iPhone 5, introduced in 2012, 2013’s Samsung Galaxy S4 or prior models, they won’t be able to make or receive regular calls once 3G is history. Certain other devices may be able to handle calls only after a software update to VoLTE or HD Voice.
What you should do next
Reach out to your carrier if you haven’t already received information. But be prepared to shop for a new phone. Carriers may offer discounts and special promotions on replacement devices, including more modern versions of a flip phone. A trade-in may not be required, and if you decide to bail altogether you may not have to pay any early termination fees.
Make sure to check in with your alarm monitoring company, too, as well as any other businesses with products that have been reliant on 3G.