In 2022, everything from your old phone to your alarm system could stop working as service providers turn off 3G networks in the United States.
Kami Griffiths has a perfectly fine phone. It’s your standard Samsung Galaxy smartphone with all the important apps, a decent camera, and a screen big enough to watch videos. It’s so fine, in fact, she’s had it since 2016 without ever feeling the need to drop hundreds of dollars on an upgrade.
Come next year, though, Griffiths won’t have a choice. That’s the current deadline for when the only cellular network her phone can use will shut down forever.
All the major cellphone carriers—AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile—are planning to shut their older 3G networks in 2022. Like millions of people in the United States who use 3G phones and other 3G devices, she will have to buy a new device if she wants to text, make calls, or even reach 911.
When these deadlines roll around, Griffith’s own phone could be the least of her problems. Griffiths, who is an executive director and co-founder of Community Tech Network—a nonprofit that focuses on digital literacy in San Francisco—is worried that the group’s clients, a mix of mostly older adults and low-income residents, will find themselves either without a working phone, or could struggle to figure out how to use a new device.
“It’s going to be very difficult for them. They will not be happy,” said Griffiths, who notes older tech users have a harder time figuring out new devices. “If it works fine, they don’t want to change a thing.”
Why Is This Happening? 3G network technology has been around in the United States for two decades. Verizon launched the first 3G network in the nation in 2002, and 4G has been around since 2010. In 2019, carriers started slowly rolling out 5G networks and soon the big companies were launching 5G smartphones. Now they need to focus their resources on building out those newer networks, while saving money on maintaining the older ones.
“The reason the carriers would like to get rid of old legacy tech is to free up that wireless spectrum,” said Ian Fogg, vice president of analysis at mobile analytics firm Opensignal. “If you switch off older tech in most markets, most countries, your spectrum license allows you to use that with newer networks like 4G and 5G.”
When Do the Networks Shut Down? The shutdown dates start in January 2022 and are spread out throughout the year. At this time, the dates are all confirmed, and the carriers are proceeding as if they are set in stone. However, the Federal Communications Commission recently accepted comments from groups and people concerned about the shutdown, which could lead to a delay.