It is official: the major wireless carriers in the USA will shut down their 3G cellular networks in 2022. When that happens, people with 3G-only phones will need to replace their phones with a newer model to get service on those carriers.
Yes; any cell phone that doesn’t support 4G or 5G will stop working once those 3G networks are shut down. You will need to have a 4G or 5G phone to make calls, send/receive SMS, and use the Internet.
As a matter of fact, not even every kind of 4G phone will work from that point. Your 4G phone has to support Voice over LTE (VoLTE or HD Voice) to be compatible with the next generation networks that the carriers will have running.
Why is this? Because these networks are shutting down everything that is not based on packet data. In simple English, everything – including voice calls and SMS – will run on an Internet connection after the 3G networks get phased out.
If you have a 4G phone, and many people in the US already have those, you may have no need to upgrade yet. You just have to check that your 4G phone supports VoLTE or HD Voice. In other words, if your 4G smartphone is one of the newer models and able to make HD Voice calls, it is good to go, and you should not be worried.
However, if your 4G smartphone is a much older model and does not support VoLTE or HD Voice, you do need to start thinking of replacing it with one that does. What you need to look out for in a 4G smartphone is whether it supports VoLTE.
What is VoLTE, and how is it different from LTE?
Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is a more advanced 4G standard that offers not just data for Internet use, but lets subscribers make voice calls, and send/receive SMS using their data plans only, instead of consuming traditional cellular network minutes.
The USA is not the first country to shut down its 3G networks. In 2020, VodafoneZiggo in the Netherlands shut its W-CDMA 3G network. Vodafone did the same in Italy in February 2021 and in the Czech Republic the following month. Telekom Deutschland and Vodafone have shut down their 3G cellular networks in Germany in 2021 as well.
The government of the United Kingdom says that 3G networks in the UK will be phased out in 2033. Other European countries are planning to sunset their 3G networks in the years ahead.
In Malaysia, the phasing out of their 3G networks has started. The country plans to keep 2G networks active, though, along with 4G networks. The decision to keep 2G services running is because many mobile users in the country still depend on it.
In the United States of America, T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T will stop supporting both 2G and 3G cellular networks totally when they shut down their 3G cellular networks in 2022. This means that the USA is saying goodbye to GSM (Global System for Mobiles) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) standards completely and moving on with next generation networks.
Why are these carriers shutting down 2G and 3G networks?
There are a few reasons, but the top one is the limited availability of bandwidth. With available bandwidth now stretched across 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G networks, and the ever-increasing demand by consumers for streaming and data-based services, it is pragmatic to shut down older 2G and 3G networks and repurpose their allocated bandwidth to newer technologies like 4G and 5G.
Of course, 4G and 5G networks offer faster speeds and greater capacity for video streaming, uploads, and downloads, especially. 4G and 5G networks are the future, and eventually every mobile operator worldwide will shut down their 3G cellular networks too.
What cell phones will continue to work after T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T shut down their 3G cellular networks?
There are hundreds of thousands of phone models out there in the market, and it is difficult to list out which will continue to work on the 4G and 5G networks after the carriers shut down their 3G networks.
Verizon says that the Apple iPhone 5, 5C, 5S or older will no longer work on their network. So will Samsung Galaxy S4 and older. If you have an iPhone or Samsung model newer than these, you are good.
Do you need a 5G phone after the carriers shut down their 3G cellular networks?
No; you do not need a 5G phone to use carrier services after the major American operators shut down their 3G cellular networks. Your VOLTE/HD Voice compatible 4G smartphone or feature phone will work just fine after those 3G networks get phased out.
Timeline for the shut down of 3G cellular networks
Do we have dates for the shut-down of these 3G cellular networks? Yes; we do. Here is what we know about each of the three major carriers.
AT&T is shutting down their 3G network in February 2022.
For T-Mobile, by March 31, 2022, Sprint’s 3G (CDMA) network will be retired. Remember that Sprint was acquired by T-Mobile. By June 30, 2022, Sprint’s 4G LTE cellular network will be retired. And by July 1, 2022, T-Mobile’s older 3G UMTS network will be retired as well.
What of Verizon? Their CDMA-based 3G cellular network will be shut down latest December 31st, 2022.
Of course, these 3G shutdowns will affect the mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that piggyback on each of these carriers. MVNOs have no infrastructure of their own and use whatever is available on their parent operators. As such, these MVNOs will also stop offering 3G services and offer only IP-based 4G and 5G services too.
As such, subscribers on MVNOs like Cricket Wireless, TracFone, FreedomPop, GoogleFi, h2o Wireless, StraightTalk, GoSmart Mobile, Metro by T-Mobile, and others will be affected by this upcoming phase out of 3G networks.
If all of the above information is difficult to digest, here is a simple, helpful thing to remember: after carriers shut down their 3G cellular networks, you will need a VoLTE or HD Voice phone or device to use their networks. If you have a 5G smartphone already, or plan on buying one, you have no need to worry. You are already living on the cutting edge, and all of these carriers love you.
- FCC (source)
- AT&T (source)
- T-Mobile (source)
- Verizon (source)
- TechRadrar: UK 2G and 3G networks will be switched off by 2033 (source)