Starting Tuesday, AT&T is officially phasing out its primitive 3G service to make room for 5G and 6G.
It's the first carrier to do so, as companies transition to faster service networks.
It’s important to double-check, but if you bought your smartphone or tablet in the last decade or less, it should have at least 4G capability and would be unaffected.
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However, it's not just old phones that are affected.
There's concern that some important devices relying on 3G still need to be upgraded and could cause major disruptions to crucial services if shut off.
There are many devices that, many may not realize, still rely on the older network, including:
- Home and business security systems
- Fire alarm panels
- Life and emergency alert buttons for older adults
- Vehicle collision systems like OnStar
- Traffic & and navigation systems for vehicles released any time between 2010 and 2021
- Ankle monitoring bracelets in criminals
- Solar panel systems
Many of those devices communicate with 24-hour monitoring systems still using 3G.
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"The United States is going to be disrupted, lives will be at risk,” John Brady, COO of emergency response company Connect America, told NBC Washington. "You'll be amazed at how many people don't even realize their devices are on a 3G platform. They think they just automatically change when the technology changes."
The announcement to shut down the older network was made back in 2019, giving companies a 3-year notice.
Companies made plans to begin upgrading devices, but the pandemic through a wrench in that effort. A computer chip shortage and ongoing supply chain crisis have made the situation worse. Companies said all of those factors caused set back major upgrades in millions of devices.
Many industries have expressed concern about needing more time to transition.
The Federal Communications Commission is not pushing back the deadline but the agency said it had gotten AT&T to agree to new roaming options to add as a bridge for certain after the 3G shutdown.
AT&T said it has been working with business customers to transition and that less than 1% of its data traffic currently runs on 3G.
As for the other companies, Verizon said its 3G shutdown will happen no later than Dec. 31 this year. T-Mobile and Sprint plan to shut down 3G between March and July.
Bottom line: if you have any concerns about any of your devices, call the company that manages that device to make sure you are upgraded or getting a replacement.