Goodbye 3G

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The one thing you can bank on when it comes to technology is obsolescence.  It’s built in to our devices. So far this has happened in fits and starts, and only to some devices some of the time.  But it’s escalating this year to all devices, all of the time—if they’re still running 3G data.

The Beginning of the End

The end of 3G has been buzzing in the background for a long time, but this year it is finally upon us. During 2022, broadband companies will be phasing out 3G, which will make many devices that relied on that technology non-working.  AARP has warned  that springing this change on insufficiently warned seniors who can’t afford to buy new devices is discriminatory and unfair and has petitioned to extend the retirement date.

The timetable for 3G cessation depends on your carrier.   AT&T is supposed to retire theirs in February with the other carriers following suit later in the year.

Helpful links: This article explains in depth what it means.  Here is the official version from the FCC and an easy to understand helpful FAQ. 

What you need to know

3G is the third generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology. It was the upgrade over 2G networks, offering faster data transfer, and better voice quality.  3G has been around for 20+ years and has been running cellphones and other devices connected to the internet for that long, which means a lot of devices run on it.

What’s 3G? 

But what exactly IS 3G (G for generation), or for that matter 4G or 5G?  Like radio frequencies or TV airwaves, cellular frequencies or bandwidths are allocated by and managed by the government.  Carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile lease chunks of it.  When 3G was the standard, manufacturers of other devices developed chips to speak to 3G technology, such as OnStar in cars, 911, personal emergency response systems (PERS), law enforcement ankle trackers and many others.

So why is 3G being ditched?   There is only so much bandwidth available, and as more and more of us use internet devices and want to stream videos and play games, 3G isn’t up to snuff when it came to running them efficiently.  Better and faster chips were developed– first 4G LTE and now 5G, which is a huge jump.  To get enough bandwidth to support 5G, carriers are dropping 3G from towers and replacing 3G cell towers with 5G.   Read this article for a more detailed explanation.

Why is this a big deal?

  • It can be expensive.
  • You’ll have to upgrade your phone, and any medical alert or security systems you may have.
  • You also have to learn a new piece of technology—never fun for most of us.

On the upside, it’s a good time to get a good deal from your carrier on a new phone, and some companies are switching out devices at no cost.  Luckily Lifeline phones will be replaced for free.

Another huge issue for seniors is that 3G cessation is likely to bring the scammers out of the woodwork.

Avoiding 3G Scams

Another huge issue for seniors is that 3G cessation is likely to bring the scammers out of the woodwork. Chia-Lin Simmons,  CEO of NXT-ID which provides security and other devices aimed at seniors, warns,  “People who aren’t tech-savvy don’t know their phones are going to fail,” she says. “Unsuspecting seniors will be offered new equipment that doesn’t exist to get their financial information.”

She recommends:

  • Make sure that an e-mail or a call is really from the company responsible for your connected device.
  • Don’t click any links or give away personal or payment information if someone randomly reaches out to you.
  • Reach out to your manufacturer or carrier first, either by going to the store in person or using verifiable contact information from the company or carrier’s official website, or contact information on the materials that came with your device.

How to prepare:

  • Check out Senior Planet’s page on this topic for details, tips, and information.
  • If you rely on a connected device for safety, don’t wait for an emergency to find out if it does or doesn’t work. Call their customer service and they will be able to tell based on serial number.
  • Act now. Once devices stop working, support lines will be in high demand. The time to get a bargain on a new phone is now—not when it stops working.
  • Be aware that if your device connects to Wi-Fi it may still work, but only if you are within the internet range.
  • Some devices (such as routers and some connected cars) may only require a firmware update–meaning an installed update to the device’s internal software–to continue working on 4G instead of 3G. You can call the company directly to see what your options are
  • Don’t assume your device is working. Test it.
  • Have a backup plan if you really rely on something.

Most important – don’t panic.  Like the Y2K (Year 2000) disaster warnings, people are predicting everything from 911 calls not being answered to criminals escaping from their electronic monitors when 3G is cut off.   This probably won’t happen, and it certainly won’t happen to you if you start preparing now.

On Thursday, February 3 Senior Planet held Phasing Out of 3G, an online discussion forum on this topic, led by Senior Planet Founder and Executive Director Tom Kamber, AARP and a representative from the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC).  Want to check out the discussion? Video is below. 

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