Dubai: Are you still using an old cell phone? Good for you, but don’t expect it to work forever. This year, many mobile phone operators around the world are shutting down their 2G and 3G networks.
The reason: obsolescence. The aging electronics under the old stacks need more expensive maintenance. And the world is embracing newer, faster, and more cost-effective slots, like 4G and 5G.
As mobile phone subscriptions reach 8.6 billion (in 2021), telecom companies face larger capacity requirements, especially for high-speed data. That’s why many are now moving away from 2G / 3G. The movement is gradual. But some countries are moving earlier than others. As carriers shut down their legacy equipment, older devices such as phones, alarm systems and laptops (and even older Teslas) need to be upgraded, or they will lose data functionality.
Here’s what we know so far:
Will older phones stop working?
Yes. Many older phones, early iPads, older Kindles, laptops, alarm systems, and classic Chromebooks – any device set to work only on 2G / 3G – will simply no longer be able to connect to cellular data networks.
Old mobile phones and models not configured to work with Long Term Development or fourth generation (LTE / 4G) / 4G and 5G networks would be affected by the planned network withdrawals around the world.
Will Wi-Fi for older devices still work?
Yes (unless the device’s Wi-Fi radio itself is broken). But their mobile data connectivity could be depleted.
Why do telkos turn off or withdraw 2G / 3G?
There are several reasons: obsolescence, savings, efficiency.
Obsolescence: These old network protocols are at least 20 years old. The electronics that run it need more maintenance or replacement with faster, better gear.
- Obsolescence: These old network protocols are at least 20 years old. The electronics that run it need more maintenance or replacement with faster, better gear.
- Cost savings: Logistically, LTE and 5G networks are more cost-effective to operate – they can accommodate more users according to one standard and there are essentially fewer maintenance issues.
- Efficiency: Telecommunications companies are making room for 4G / 5G (and, possibly, 6G) networks.
Similar transitions have occurred in the past, such as rotational phones. Some mobile carriers shut down their aging networks when they upgraded their networks to support newer services.
For example, the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) told users that the UAE will stop selling all phones that only work on a 2G network from June 2022.
Telephone companies have the flexibility to choose the types of technologies and services they deploy, including when they retire older services to pave the way for faster, more efficient services to meet regulatory and consumer requirements.
Will 2G / 3G be shut down all at once?
No. Support for these older networks will be phased out by different carriers at different times, starting this 2022. But it is clear that they cannot last forever.
What is the stop schedule?
Different airlines in different parts of the world have announced a rolling stop schedule:
Considering the retirement of older networks, U.S. customers are urged to pre-plan to avoid losing connectivity – including the ability to call the 911 hotline.
Plans and timing to eliminate U.S. 3G services vary by company and may change, but will be this year. For example, this February (2022), AT&T announced that it would end up turning off its 3G. Verizon has announced that it will close its 3G network by December 31, 2022.
T-Mobile has announced that it will close Sprint’s 3G CDMA network by March 31, 2022 and Sprint’s 4G LTE network by June 30, 2022. It has also announced that it will turn off 3G T-Mobile’s UMTS network before July 1, 2022, but has not yet announced a closing date for its 2G network.
Many other U.S. airlines – such as Cricket, Boost, Straight Talk, and several Lifeline mobile phone providers – use the networks of AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has urged customers to “plan ahead” for the 3G cellular service phase.
“If your cell phone is more than a few years old, you may need to upgrade your device before your cell phone can turn off its 3G network to avoid losing service,” the FCC said in its latest advice.
India, the second largest national telecommunications network, is home to more than 1 billion customers. It has seen a 4G subscription base grow steadily. This prompted some telecom operators to start shutting down their 3G networks. Last year, Airtel and Vodafone-Idea (Vi) announced plans to eliminate 3G to focus on 4G services. Mobile phone companies have also stopped selling 3G phones in the country.
Airtel first discontinued 3G services in Kolkata last year as part of its efforts to eliminate the service in the rest of the country. Since then, the telecom operator has been working to move its subscribers to the high-speed 4G network.
This 2022, Vodafone-Idea, India’s third largest telecom provider, will end its 3G services in Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and several other cities before being phased out of the rest of the country. The operator will continue to offer 2G services, while its network is also 5G-ready.
By the end of 2022, the 4G coverage in priority circles [areas] is expected to rise to more than 90 percent, from about 83 percent in March 2020, Business Line quoted Akshaya Moondra, Chief Financial Officer of Vodafone-Idea.
Despite the growing focus of Airtel and Vodafone India on 4G, the state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) continues to provide 3G services all over India. Reliance Jio, a late entrant in India’s huge telecom service markets, has only 4G network across India.
The country will soon be auctioning off the 5G spectrum, but millions continue to use 2G (voice calls and SMS only). That’s why Airtel and Vodafone-Idea say they intend to continue to offer 2G services. India is where 5G will coexist with 2G in the foreseeable future
As of 2020, Globe Telecom has stopped issuing 3G SIMs. The carrier has urged customers to switch to LTE / 4G. Globe said it was looking to accelerate the migration of subscribers to LTE / 4G, and eventually to 5G.
To address the growing demand for data, leading companies such as PLDT and Smart are preparing for the discontinuation of its 2G and 3G technologies to migrate to faster LTE and 5G technologies. Globe was the first mobile operator in Southeast Asia to commercially launch 5G AirFiber for Home use in 2019. The phone launched its 5G for mobile phone a year later. Smart, meanwhile, launched its 5G service commercially in July 2020 and was the first to launch 5G nationwide.
There major domestic operators have announced a rolling shutdown of their 3G networks. In 2019, China Mobile announced that it is closing its 3G network in some regions of China. China Mobile was expected to completely shut down its network by 2020. In 2020, China Telecom Yunnan Branch said it will gradually discontinue its 3G EVDO data services to accelerate the deployment of 5G networks.
On January 25, 2022, Vodafone announced the shutdown of the nearly two-decade-old 3G network while usage was declining. The company, which has around 18 million UK mobile customers, will now focus on using the released spectrum to expand its 4G and 5G networks. Similar transitions have occurred
How do I know if my device is 2G / 3G?
Some company websites provide lists of devices that will no longer be supported after 3G networks are turned off. There are ways to know if your phone or other connected device may be affected:
- (a) Check the box / instruction manual (if still available). You know your device better than anyone and how long you’ve been using it.
- (b) You can check the online literature on the device, based on brand and model, to know its connectivity protocol.
- (c) You can also contact your mobile provider or consult your provider’s website for more information about their 3G retirement plan.
Does 3G removal only affect phones?
No, other devices, such as some medical devices, tablets, smart watches, vehicle SOS services, home security systems, older Tesla devices, and other connected products may be using 3G network services.
Devices that use 3G cellular connectivity as a backup when a wired internet connection fails could also be affected. If the device is not tagged, it is best to contact your service provider to confirm whether your device may be affected.
Can I upgrade my device to run 4G or higher?
Check if your device can be reset: Some devices may only need a software update to enable VoLTE (HD Voice) or other advanced services. You can check if your device has 4G LTE (with VoLTE or HD Voice) enabled by checking your phone’s settings or user manual.
You can also search your phone’s model on the Internet to determine if you need to purchase a new device or install a software update.
If your phone is VoLTE / 4G capable or higher, you will not be affected.