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AT&T 3G Phase-Out Begins in Feb., Other Providers to Follow

According to estimates from Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, about 3.2 million people still use 3G devices. These customers could be left behind in terms of phone communications if they don't upgrade in 2022.

(TNS) — The nation's major cellular providers — Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile — all say that about 1% of their users are still on a device that uses the 3G network to communicate.

But with more than 320 million combined customers in the U.S., that's still 3.2 million people. Like it or not, they will need an upgrade by the end of the year, when the older network will be phased out.

Emergency service providers are concerned about it from a safety perspective.

"If your mobile phone is more than a few years old, you may need to upgrade your device before your provider shuts down its 3G network and you lose service — including the ability to call 911," said Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Lt. Adam Reed. "During an emergency, every minute counts whether you need police, fire or medical assistance."

For the titans of U.S. corporate wireless, it's simply about making room for new technology.

Verizon, with more than 120 million U.S. customers, initially announced its plans to decommission 3G technology in 2019, but extended the deadline to the end of 2022.

"We've already developed migration plans with most of our business customers to ensure any 3G devices they have in vehicles and equipment have been migrated to 4G LTE or 5G technology as soon as possible," said Mike Haberman, Verizon vice president.

T-Mobile, with just under 105 million customers, plans to begin shutting down its various 3G networks — starting with those of merger partner Sprint — on March 31. Sprint's LTE network will go offline June 30, with the T-Mobile 3G network following suit on July 1.

However, users of older phones that are used only for 911 connectivity may not receive a notification if they do not have active service with a carrier.

Organizations that serve individuals experiencing homelessness or survivors of domestic violence sometimes provide clients with older phones without a service plan for making emergency calls. Users of these types of 911-only phones should check with the organization that provided the phone about their options.

Low-income individuals concerned that their 911-only phones will no longer be supported should consider applying for service through the Federal Communications Commission's Lifeline program. Information about eligibility, participating providers and the application process can be found at

AT&T, with just under 98 million customers, will shut its 3G network down the soonest — in February — and has been communicating with users along with T-Mobile and Verizon for the past couple years about sun-setting 3G.

"We plan to end service on our 3G wireless networks so that we can redeploy under-utilized and less-efficient 3G spectrum to better support next-generation technologies and services," said AT&T spokesperson Lesley Merritt.

The burgeoning 5G network is undoubtedly among that technology, but its roll-out has been rocky in some places.

Last week, AT&T halted the activation of new 5G wireless service near some U.S. airports after the nation's largest airlines said the service could interfere with aircraft technology, according to the Associated Press.

The Federal Communications Commission, which auctions radio spectrum bands, determined that the band used by 5G cell towers could be used safely in the vicinity of air traffic. But major airlines warned that flights could be grounded or delayed if the roll-out takes place near major airports.

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to conduct further study, and Verizon officials said that while they are launching their 5G network, they will "voluntarily limit" its use around airports," the AP reported.

Anyone unsure about whether their device needs upgraded from 3G is encouraged to contact their service provider.

©2022 The Tribune-Review, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.