On Tuesday, AT&T becomes the first wireless company to shut off its 3G network. The move will impact those still working on older wireless technology, including phones, burglar alarms, in-car roadside assistance and even medical alert devices.
All of the major carriers will be turning off their 3G networks this year at some point. T-Mobile plans to shut its network down by July 1. Verizon plans to do so by December 31.
Since cheaper carriers like Boost, Cricket or Straight Talk piggyback off the major carriers, their networks will also be affected.
The companies say the network is outdated and shutting down 3G will free up bandwidth for the newer networks, especially 5G. AT&T says more delays would affect the 5G rollout and cause more dropped call issues.
But the companies have been delaying the shutdown as customers required more time to prepare. The home alarm industry also asked the Federal Communications Commission to push back AT&T’s shutdown because there’s a concern about fire and burglar alarm technology. The alarm industry says supply-chain issues have further slowed down efforts to replace the older tech.
The Alarm Industry Communications Committee, in comments to the FCC, said millions of alarm customers are relying on AT&T’s 3G network still, for everything from home invasions to carbon monoxide alerts to first responders.
“Lives will very likely be lost (including many elderly lives) if connectivity is lost,” the statement said.
It’s not known exactly how many people actually still rely on 3G to get phone signal. AT&T told the Associated Press that fewer than 1% of its 196 million customers will be affected.
AARP says it’s concerned that millions of people, including older adults, are still relying on 3G devices. It’s also concerned that medical alert systems that connect people to emergency call centers won’t work, and people who use those devices won’t know their gadgets don’t work anymore until they need it.
“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,” AARP said in comments filed to the FCC requesting a delay.
AT&T has published an extensive list of devices that will still work on its network, including smartphones, tablets and wireless home phones. It also includes a guide on how to find the exact model information for your phone. It’s not just smartphones that are affected. Older flip phones, for instance, may no longer receive calls.
Customers are urged to call their carriers or device companies to make sure they work, including alarm and medical alert companies.