AT&T shuts down its 3G network. Here’s how it might affect you

AT&T is set to disconnect its 3G network on Tuesday, and other major US carriers are expected to follow suit later this year. Moving affects everything from older phones to residential alarm systems and roadside assistance systems.

Switch its mobile customers to 4G without service interruption, AT&T (J), which owns CNN’s parent company, provided free replacement phones to many users with 3G devices. It also attempted to alert customers to network changes through various methods.

“For nearly two years, we have proactively sent numerous communications via direct mail, bill messaging, email and SMS to help customers transition to next-generation networks before 3G services end on February 22,” AT&T told CNN Business in a statement.

AT&T is shutting down its 3G networks as part of an increased effort to reuse spectrum for 4G and 5G — newer standards that are more efficient than 3G. T-Mobile (TMUS) will do the same in the third trimester and Verizon (VZ) go do it by the end of the year.

Here’s what you need to know about 3G shutdown.

Which products will be impacted?

The shutdown will impact people who still use 3G Kindles, 3G flip phones, iPhone 5 and older models as well as various Android phones. It will also affect home alarm systems and medical devices such as fall detectors. Some in-car crash notification and roadside assistance systems like OnStar will also need to be updated or replaced.
If you don’t know which network your phone is connected to, open Settings, tap Network & Internet, then select Mobile network on Android devices. On iOS, choose Settings, Cellular, then choose Cellular Data Options. AT&T also has a dedicated web page to determine if your device will be affected by the shutdown.

This may be harder to tell with other everyday products. If you are unsure whether the device uses 3G, you can call the manufacturer or the car dealership.

What can I do about this?

For those who don’t wantyou get rid of their 3G mobile devices, there are workarounds. In theory, it will be possible to access a web browser via Wi-Fi or make calls wirelessly on a 3G phone if the user has a voice-over-internet protocol application, such as Facebook Messenger. Likewise, people with a 3G e-reader will still be able to download new books to the device via Wi-Fi.

Other 3G products may be more complicated. My Alarm Center, a home security systems company, has warned customers that some alarm systems will need to be replaced by a technician to avoid possible disruptions. “Even if your alarm appears to be working, it will no longer communicate with our central service station to notify us that emergency services are needed,” the company says on its website.
General Engines (GM), which owns OnStar, began streaming over-the-air updates in October on vehicles released as early as 2015, including models from Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac, that could be affected by the transition. Typically, most cars built in the last five years with connectivity use 4G modems. If the car has 3G, the manufacturer may offer an upgrade program or the mobile operator may provide an adapter with a modem that can be plugged into a vehicle.

Why does this happen?

The 3G network was launched in 2002 and became the driving force behind the first App Store boom towards the end of that decade. Wireless companies then moved to 4G and more recently 5G networks.

Last month, AT&T and Verizon activated 5G C-band networks, an important set of higher radio frequencies that will supercharge the internet. The change will allow users, for example, to stream a Netflix movie in 4K resolution or download a movie in seconds. (Verizon said its C-band speeds reach nearly 1 gigabyte per second, about 10 times faster than 4G LTE.)

Only a small portion of wireless customers still use 3G networks. Verizon said in a blog post that 99% of its customers have already switched to 4G LTE or 5G, and AT&T said less than 1% of its mobile data traffic goes over 3G networks. T-Mobile did not respond to a request for comment on its 3G user base.


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