As the country moves toward 5G wireless technology, approximately 17 percent of the U.S. population could be forced to upgrade their phones and tablets if they still want cell data, according to a Jan. 30 report by Richard Howard, content specialist at mobile virtual network operator Ting.
The 3G networks, which enabled very basic mobile games and apps available on smartphones, has been around since 2001. Then came 4G in 2010, which enabled more advanced apps and high-quality video streaming. Now, 5G service is becoming more mainstream, and network carriers are planning to help customers transition away from 3G products, which is a process commonly referred to as a "sunset."
"For several years now, we've publicly stated that our 3G [code-division multiple access] network is being decommissioned," Verizon Global Network & Technology Communications spokesperson Karen Shultz told FOX Business.
Verizon will continue to support "the remaining" 3G devices on its network through the end of 2020, Schultz said, adding that "virtually all Verizon data traffic runs on" its 4G LTE network.
"We have very few customers who are still accessing our 3G Network," Schultz said. "We have worked for the past few years to help those with 3G devices transfer to devices capable of accessing the 4G LTE network. To facilitate the smooth migration of the remaining 3G devices in the market onto 4G LTE or 5G capable products and services, we are no longer allowing devices that are not 4G LTE capable to be activated on our network."
AT&T is operating under a similar plan to move customers toward newer products, and its 3G network service is expected to be shut down by February 2022. spokesperson Megan Daly said the national 3G shutdown is "an industry-wide matter," and referred FOX Business to CTIA, a trade association representing the wireless industry as a whole, for more information.
"This is nothing new," CTIA said. "The wireless industry has transitioned customers from old to new generations before and will do so again. Consumers shouldn’t fall for these sorts of scare tactics and any who have question[s] should call their carrier[s] to discuss options."
AT-Mobile spokesperson told FOX Business it has not released any plans to transition into a 3G sunset, but according to a June announcement from transportation safety nonprofit PrePass, T-Mobile and Sprint are expected to begin the process in 2020 or in 2021.
But even people who use 4G and 5G-capable smartphones could be affected by the collective 3G shutdown if their phones are connected to smart devices that operate on 3G technology, like smart refrigerators and smartwatches, Ting Content Specialist Richard Howard said in his report.
"Many [Internet of Things] devices and their controllers use 3G modems, as well as associated technologies like GPRS. In short, you could be in for an unwelcome surprise when they shut down support in your area and you wake up the next day to find your older smartwatch or refrigerator has suddenly become quite dumb," Howard wrote.
Your best bet as a 3G mobile-device user, Howard added, is to purchase a "4G/LTE phone that supports VoLTE," or Voice over Long-Term Evolution. He says that voice calls be made over LTE networks for "the next couple years."