AT&T is shutting down its 3G network. Here's everything you need to know

It's time to move on, because not even 911 will work.
Ameya Paleja
An AT&T store in San FranciscoSundry Photography/ iStock

Mobile network provider AT&T is shutting down its 3G network in the U.S. today as part of its plan it had announced way back in 2019. The company has said that less than one percent of its customers use 3G, Axios reported

As USA Today reported, Verizon was the first company to introduce 3G networks in the U.S. way back in the year 2002. This was a time when Blackberry was the top choice for a modern-day mobile phone. 20 years since Blackberry devices are well in their digital graves, and 3G networks are also set to meet the same end. 

5G over 3G

Mobile networks are transitioning to provide services using the fifth-generation (5G) of mobile network technology. Dubbed the game-changer in how we communicate wirelessly in the world today, 5G networks promise ultra-high speeds, minimal delays, the ability to connect and communicate with a flurry of devices around us. 

The promised increase in bandwidth though will come at the cost of 3G which was quite the stepping stone between the voice and data services offered by 2G networks and the mobile broadband ushered in by 4G. Except for T-Mobile which still offers services on its 2G network, other mobile service providers have already dumped it.

3G networks are also scheduled to meet their end before 2022 is over. T-Mobile plans to shut down 3G networks by July 1 while Verizon has set itself a December 31 deadline, the Federal Communications Commission said on its website. While these are target dates, the FCC has warned that operators might shut down networks before the deadline too. 

Who might be affected?

It might seem obvious that only individuals who use older 3G compatible mobile handsets will be affected by this move. Once the network stops operating, users will not even be able to access emergency services like 911 from their older phones. Axios reported that AT&T has provided about two million replacements in the form of free or discounted 4G phones.  

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However, over the past two decades, 3G mobile networks have also become the backbone of a host of connected services such as cars and home alarm systems. Millions of cars on the U.S. roads, including those sold in the last three to five years, still use 3G networks, CNN reported. While some car companies have offered upgrades to car owners to remain connected, it is likely that most car owners are not aware of the network dependence of their cars and will notice it only after the network support ends. 

Another area expected to be affected is alarm systems whether personal or installed for security of home and office premises. Axios reported that as many as two million home alarm systems could go offline after this change. Even after it has been asked to intervene and delay the shutdown, the FCC has decided not to interfere, with the White House keeping a close eye on developments resulting from this move. 

Axios also reported that 10 percent of school buses in the U.S. will lose GPS access and prediction display systems in cities such as San Francisco will stop displaying real-time updates, once AT&T's 3G network goes offline. 

What can they do?

AT&T has warned its users well in advance about this change. However, if you are unsure if the change affects your phone, you can find a detailed list of which devices will function on its website.

For other devices such as home alarm systems or cars, you can check with your device provider if this change affects your device and if an upgrade has been completed or is overdue. 

Some devices might be obsolete and will need to be replaced. Even if you are unwilling to get a 5G device, a 4G device should also suffice and is unlikely to be a victim of a shutdown anytime soon. 

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