It’s the beginning of the end for 3G cellular networks in the United States. The wireless standard was the first to deliver high-speed data over the airwaves when it first rolled out two decades ago, but since then it’s been largely supplanted by faster 4G networks and, more recently, 5G which can theoretically deliver higher speeds and reduce congestion.
Now US wireless networks are beginning to take their 3G equipment offline. AT&T is kicking things off by shutting down its nation-wide 3G network this week, but T-Mobile and Verizon will also shut off their 3G networks by the end of the year.
Here’s when each major US network is expected to shut off their 3G service:
- AT&T: February 22, 2022
- Sprint (owned by T-Mobile since 2020): March 31, 2022
- T-Mobile: July 1, 2022
- Verizon: December 31, 2022
MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) such as Straight Talk, Tracfone, Cricket, Boost, and Google Fi make use of the networks listed above, so their schedules will likely track with the major carriers.
For the most part, if you’ve purchased a new smartphone in the past decade, you probably don’t need to do anything, as it will likely support 4G or newer networks. And given that phones aren’t really designed to last, odds are that there aren’t a lot of folks still using old 3G-only models on a regular basis anymore.
But the shutdown could have more serious implications for 3G-enabled gear that typically has a longer lifespan. For example, the Associated Press reports that makers of home security alarm systems has asked the FCC to delay AT&T’s shutdown, as some security systems still rely on 3G networks to communicate with remote networks even if someone has cut the power and/or phone line to your home.
That said, the impending shutdown has been a long time coming… and a long time delayed. Verizon had originally planned to decommission its 3G network in 2020, but chose to push that date back by more than two years.
You can find more details about the US wireless carriers 3G network shutdown timeline and the potential impact it will have on various devices at the FCC website.