Older cell phones and other devices like security systems that use only the 3G cellphone network are going to stop working in early 2022 because the radio frequencies used are being reallocated to newer technology like 4G and 5G.
The biggest impact will likely be felt by older people, domestic violence victims and the poor who may depend on older, cheaper technology for less sophisticated but necessary communications.
As part of the spectrum licensing agreements with the Federal Communications Commission, for more than 20 years all providers have been required to accept 911 calls from any cellphone, even if the phone does not have a provider service plan.
But the caveat is that as technology advances old systems and technologies may be taken out of service to make way for newer, more radio spectrum-efficient technology. That is what will happen sometime in February 2022, and has happened twice before in years past.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA) announced the upcoming decommissioning of the 3G network nationwide on Tuesday.
“It is vitally important that the public be aware that national 3G networks will no longer work sometime early next year. These networks support older phones and devices that won’t work after the 3G network goes away” said Harriet Rennie-Brown, Executive Director of NASNA.
The PUC warns that some “devices that use 3G connectivity, such as some medical alert devices, tablets, smart watches, home security systems, and other devices” will stop working.
“Most users of these services will be notified directly by the carriers if this discontinuation affects them,” says the press release. “However, users of older phones used for 9-1-1 only purposes may not be notified if they do not have active service with the provider. It has long been the practice of some organizations for the homeless or domestic violence shelters to provide clients with older phones with no service, since those phones could still be used to call 9-1-1 in an emergency. Users of those older 9-1-1 only phones should be aware that they may not work after 3G service is discontinued.”
“Our customers have the ability to upgrade their phones, including with a free replacement from us, before our 3G network shuts down in February of 2022," said a spokesperson for AT&T, in a statement to The Denver Gazette. "These plans are not new, we have been working on this transition for years by issuing multiple notices, extending special offers, sending replacement phones and deploying support resources to help our customers. Less than 1 percent of our mobile data traffic currently runs on our 3G networks. We continue to ship replacement phones and work with any remaining 3G users as we complete this network upgrade for our customers.”
“The PUC is dedicated to ensuring that all Coloradans maintain access to safety and emergency services throughout the transition to a faster, more reliable cellular network,” said Doug Dean, Director of the PUC.
“Low-income individuals who are concerned that their 9-1-1 only phones may no longer be supported should consider applying for service through the federal Lifeline Program. Information regarding eligibility and participating providers can be found at https://www.lifelinesupport.org/,” says the PUC.