Most devices using 3G networks, including those without service that are used solely for the purpose of calling 911, will gradually become inoperable beginning Jan. 1, the Federal Communications Commission said.
The change won’t just affect phones: Medical alert devices, tablets, smartwatches and home security systems limited to 3G will also stop working. The practice of shutting down older networks for new technology is routine; the FCC says many 2G networks were shut down to make way for 4G networks.
While most users will receive a notice from their service provider, the Maryland 911 Board said phones that are only used for contacting emergency services and don’t have an active cell plan may not receive this warning.
“It has long been the practice of some organizations for the homeless or domestic violence shelters to provide clients with older phones with no service, since those phones could still be used to call 911 in an emergency,” the board said in a statement warning about the upcoming change.
“Users of those older 911-only phones should be aware that they may not work after 3G service is discontinued.”
Some devices could sidestep the issue with a software update, but others will need to be replaced entirely, the FCC said in a statement.
As early as New Year’s Day, the three major mobile providers will begin to shut down their 3G services. The FCC said the following dates are when the all 3G services finish shutting down:
- AT&T will finish shutting down its 3G network by February 2022.
- Verizon will finish shutting down its 3G network by Dec. 31, 2022.
- T-Mobile will finish shutting down Sprint’s 3G CDMA network by March 31, 2022 and Sprint’s 4G LTE network by June 30, 2022.
Even if someone is using a different carrier, their 3G device may still stop working; Cricket, Boost, Straight Talk and several Lifeline mobile service providers, utilize AT&T’s, Verizon’s and T-Mobile’s networks, according to the FCC.
While the FCC can’t replace outdated devices, it does offer some forms of assistance for buying a new phone and providing internet services.
- The Lifeline program helps consumers get phone and internet services through discounted phone service for low-income individuals. More information about eligibility is online.
- The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is temporary but discounts broadband service during COVID-19. More information about eligibility is online.