LANSING – As 3G cellphone networks disappear next year, people using older devices could be left without a lifeline.
Ingham County 911 Director Barb Davidson said people should prepare as carriers are eliminating 3G cell service in 2022, rendering older phones unable to make calls, even to 911. Davidson said people should start upgrading or updating their devices as it’s only a matter of months until 3G service ends.
“We’re very concerned that the safety net people think they have in place may no longer be there,” Davidson said.
Tracfones, flip phones, Jitterbugs and even older-style smartphones will no longer be able to make calls once the networks are taken down, Davidson said. Many people, especially senior citizens, have kept older model phones they are comfortable using, she said.
Phasing out 3G will impact older home security systems, tablets, smart watches and some medical devices, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Davidson said she used to tell people that if a cellphone had power, it could call 911. People have kept older model phones solely for emergencies and not regular use, she said.
“With the decommissioning of the 3G network, that may no longer hold true,” Davidson said.
Why 3G is going away?
The older cell frequencies are being discontinued as carriers move to 5G. Moving away from 3G frees up network frequencies for faster service, according to the FCC.
For 911 providers, radio upgrades and better network connections give emergency responders more information. Davidson said newer devices can automatically give GPS data and communicate better with 911 systems.
“The 3G network just isn’t as robust,” she said.
When does 3G go away?
Davidson said she can’t give a firm date as it varies across service providers. The FCC said individual carriers can chose when to decommission services.
Cell phone carriers have committed to eliminating 3G service by the end of the 2022. Davidson said some providers are saying it will be early that year; others are saying it will be later.
“They all have a different cutoff date,” she said.
Here are tentative dates for carriers’ 3G shutdowns, according to the FCC:
- T-Mobile: Jan. 1, 2022
- AT&T: February 2022
- Sprint LTE: June 30, 2022
- Verizon: Dec. 31, 2022
The FCC said many smaller carriers, such as Boost, Cricket and Straight Talk, use those same networks and the 3G discontinuation would follow the providers’ schedule.
Carriers have largely reached out to their customers notifying them of the change, Davidson said. For people who have kept an older phone without a service plan for emergencies, they may not get a notification, she said.
“That’s a concern as well,” Davidson said.
How to check your device
Individual cellphone carriers have lists online with the model numbers so people can see whether their device will be affected, Davidson said. If people don’t know their phone model number, the information could be difficult to find.
From their phones, people can check the international mobile equipment identify number, Davidson said.
“This would be an easy way to do that,” Davidson said.
That number is either in a smartphone’s About information or can be found by dialing *#06#, Davidson said. Once they have the model number, she said people should check https://www.imei.info for the phone’s details.
If a phone has a frequency of 900 megahertz or 2100 megahertz, it is likely a 3G network, according to Ingham County 911.
Contact reporter Craig Lyons at 517-377-1047 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @craigalyons.