FCC Warns Users to Plan Ahead for 3G Phase Out

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There’s not a lot of talk about the third generation of cellular technology these days, what with 5G being all the rage. After all, 3G technology has passed two decades of use, which is pretty old for a wireless protocol. But there are still plenty of devices out there using 3G.

3G, which was launched by NTT DoCoMo in 2001, has reached the end of its life, and mobile carriers are shutting down their networks to make room for more advanced network services, such as 5G. As a result, the FCC is raising awareness among users that their devices pretty soon will not be worth the silicon from which they are made.

“Contact your mobile provider or consult your provider’s website for more information about their 3G retirement plan and whether your phone, or other connected device, may be affected,” the Commission said on its site. “It is important to plan now so that you don’t lose connectivity, including the ability to call 911.” 

AT&T and Verizon announced that they will finish shutting down their 3G networks by February 2022, and December 31, 2022, respectively. T-Mobile announced that it will finish shutting down Sprint’s 3G network by January 1, 2022, and Sprint’s LTE network by June 30, 2022. Plans to shut down T-Mobile’s 2G and 3G networks have not been announced. 

While the carriers may offer a no-cost or low-cost upgrade to 5G, some phones may be upgradeable to voice over LTE or HD Voice with a software upgrade. Additionally, the FCC’s Lifeline program may be able to assist eligible consumers in getting connected to phone and internet services.

Beyond wireless handsets, other devices will be affected by the shut down, including medical devices, tablets, smart watches, vehicle SOS services, home security systems and other connected products that may use cellular connectivity as a back-up when a wired internet connection goes down. Inside Towers reported the Alarm Industry Communications Committee of The Monitoring Association has petitioned the FCC to delay the planned shutdown of AT&T’s 3G wireless network because the alarm industry will not have some 6 million security, fire, and personal medical alert systems upgraded to a new network by the deadline. But that petition has not been resolved yet.

Before 3G gets kicked to the dustbin of digital history, remember this. Before 3G there were no Blackberry smartphones being slipped into the suit pockets of executives. Before the iPhone changed the world, Blackberrys became known as “crackberrys” because so many business people became addicted to them. Also in praise of 3G, it pushed data rates from 64 kbps under 2G up to 14 Mbps by using packet switching, according to Rantcell, an RF testing firm. Data packets, which drove web connectivity, were standardized in the 3G protocol, and international roaming services became a possibility for the first time.  

“3G’s increased data transfer capabilities led to the rise of new services such as video conferencing, video streaming and voice over IP (such as Skype),” Rantcell wrote. “It used a wideband wireless network, which operated at 2100 MHz with a bandwidth of 15-20 megahertz.”

Farewell, 3G.

By J. Sharpe Smith Inside Towers Technology Editor

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