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3G services ending soon, not upgrading will ultimately impact calls

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 4:26 PM CST
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RIB MOUNTAIN, Wis. (WSAW) - With just a month left in 2021 and as people think about gifts for the holidays, some people will need to think about upgrading their technology. Most cellular companies will be ending their 3G services in 2022 to make way for more efficient and faster 5G coverage. Those who do not upgrade their devices that are not compatible will eventually have problems using them at all.

The transition out of 3G has been happening for years as companies encourage their customers to upgrade. It is only a small percentage of customers at the various wireless companies across the nation who are still on devices and phones that are not compatible with the new networks. AT&T has a detailed guide to check whether your device is compatible or if it will need to be upgraded. Cellcom said the customers make up a single-digit percent of all of its customers. Verizon has said it is at less than a percent of its customers who have not switched yet.

The people who are among those small percentages, Dennis Wayda, Cellcom’s west area regional manager said are those who are really attached to their old phones. Cellcom and other companies have been contacting their affected customers for at least a year or more to encourage the transition, so Wayda urged people should not ignore those mailers or messages.

“That’s really the biggest concern here, is lack of being able to call at some point.”

He said that includes dialing 911. The newest technology uses the internet to make phone calls possible.

“All of those 5G devices, they’re already ready for this. Most of our 4G devices, they’re already ready for this. It’s some of the older 4G devices that are incapable of using what we call VoLTE or voice over LTE,” Wayda explained.

He said those who have an iPhone 6S are fine, but those who have an iPhone 6 or older generation will need an upgrade. For Samsung, Cellcom said the 8 or newer are fine, but earlier generations will need to switch. Most flip phone users will likely have to upgrade to at least a compatible flip phone.

“This transition allows the cellular industry to continue to grow with that. These older networks, they’re very inefficient in terms of how it uses spectrum, which is our most important resource in the wireless industry.”

AT&T and Cricket Wireless have some of the earliest sunset dates of February, 2022. T-Mobile, which acquired Sprint, has a few ending dates beginning with March 31, 2022 and completing the services by July 1, 2022. Verizon will end its 3G services by Dec. 31, 2022. A USCellular spokesperson told NewsChannel 7 that when it opened its services to the Wausau area it offered 4G network technology, so did not operate 3G technology in this network area. The statement read in part:

“As the global wireless ecosystem moves away from 3G CDMA network technology, the industry is beginning to phase out its support in some instances. We continuously evaluate the network technologies we provide to customers to ensure a great customer experience and we have no plans in the near future to shut down our CDMA (3G) network where the technology is currently offered.”

Cellcom has not set a date yet when it will end that coverage, but Wayda said they will eventually follow suit. He added that even if your service provider’s 3G is still active while others are not, customers will see either a degradation or complete lack of service when they get out of their provider’s service area if their phones are not compatible.

Wayda said they have been trying to lift some of the burden on customers from a cost perspective as well. He said in some cases they will grandfather in customer’s current rates, or they will offer discounts on compatible devices. A spokesperson from T-Mobile told NewsChannel 7 it is offering free 5G phones to all customers needing to upgrade.

Other devices that use cell services could also be impacted if they are not already upgraded, such as some medical devices, trail cams, security cameras, smart home technology that uses cell service, etc. Both Marshfield Clinic and Aspirus told NewsChannel 7 patients should not have issues. Aspirus IT said the health system does not use medical equipment or devices that are reliant on 3G service. Wayda recommends reaching out to your doctor, if it is a medical device, or the production company to see if those devices need to be upgraded just in case.

The Federal Communications Commission also has resources to help people know if they need to upgrade and what they should be aware of here.

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