5G is finally starting to roll-out to consumers. More bandwidth, faster speeds and better network coverage. Great, yes! The dark side of this is that 3G has to go to make room for 5G.
The short explanation – there is only a limited amount of radio frequencies available in the airwaves. Cellular has to share with Radio, Television, Aviation and other transmissions. So when something new comes along, it usually means displacing something older. That’s what will happen to 3G cellular.
For consumers, if you have an older cell phone that uses 3G you are in for some changes. That’s about 10 million cell phones that are going to need upgrading. The 3G network launched way back in 2002. You may recall the transition from Analog to Digital – it only took about a year for everyone’s analog cell phone to become a paperweight (I’m looking at you Nokia flip phone!).
Not sure if you have a 3G phone? Look in the corner of the screen, where you see the signal strength bars or antenna symbol. Next to that should show ‘3G’, ‘LTE’ or ‘4G’. LTE means Long Term Evolution, which supports 4G. If you are still not sure, call your service provider and ask them. If it’s a 3G, you might want to start the conversation about a replacement sooner rather than later.
The good news is that most wireless service providers are already working to keep their customers connected. AT&T says they will be shipping new phones to their 3G customers as they start to shut down coverage areas.
Keep in mind, the new phones will be ‘similar’ to what you are using. Meaning if you are an iPhone/iOS user, you’ll get an iPhone, and Android OS users will get one using that OS.
Verizon and AT&T are rolling out their nation-wide 5G in January. T-Mobile has already started and should be completed later next year. With that schedule, AT&T expects to shut down 3G in February, T-Mobile will transition fully by July/August, and Verizon by December.
It’ll most likely be a gradual degradation of service area coverage, connections and speed. Until 3G is gone completely and then … nothing. This includes the 911 / Emergency service connections.
Keep in mind that phones from Cricket, Boost and pre-paid (e.g., ‘burner’) phones all use the big networks for their service providers. So if you have one of these, and it’s an older model, you might want to start looking for a new phone.
Something that often gets overlooked in the migration discussion is all the other systems that rely on 3G which will now need to be updated. One of the biggest headaches will be for businesses and home-owners that have an older wire-less security system.
A lot of hardware in these alarm systems rely on 3G for SMS / text messages to communicate with the monitoring station and the users. The cost was low for the messages, and the communications were reliable. These 3G modules were still being installed even as late 2018.
If you have an alarm system that just uses a dedicated phone line, then no worries. If it’s a hybrid system will cellular fall-back or wireless only, you should contact your provider to see if you’ll be affected by the 3G shutdown.
Overall, we are looking forward to 5G even with these road bumps. Like the great transition from Analog to Digital cellular service, there were some initial issues but the end result has been pretty good. Just be sure to plan for this change and not be left with a dead phone when you need it most!