In-Depth: What's the 3G Sunset and how will it affect me?

Older technology going away throughout 2022
Posted at 4:01 AM, Feb 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-15 10:34:06-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Throughout 2022, mobile companies will shut down their 3G technology as they ramp up 5G.

It's an event called the "3G Sunset," and tech experts tell ABC 10News it will impact a lot more than just people's old cell phones.

"The sad part is that it's something that has been everybody knows it's been coming from 2016," says Assistant Professor Dinesh Bharadia from UC San Diego. "But for some people, there is no solution yet today."

In addition to older, 3G cell phones, the Sunset will take various other pieces of tech offline. That includes 3G-enabled e-readers, tablets, and smartwatches. It also will affect a handful of non-personal items, like GPS systems or emergency notifications on cars, security systems in homes or businesses, and medical devices that share health data with doctors.

"It's a lot of everyday things and a lot of critical items," says Professor Venkat Shastri from the University of San Diego. "This equipment, these technologies have a much longer life cycle than the life cycle of a cell phone."

Shastri says shutting down 3G will drastically impact underserved communities, where people and businesses don't have the money to upgrade all of their technology.

"If you cut them off, what do they do?" he asks. "There is no solution from the telecom service providers."

"Think about COVID," Shastri says. "Who got affected the most? It's the underserved communities that had to go to McDonald's parking lot, and have their kids do homework. They are the ones that are going to be affected mostly by this."

"It's also small businesses that are going to be affected by it. It is a smaller hospitals that don't have a big capital budget on their medical equipment that are going to be affected by it. It's a smaller ambulance companies that are going to be affected by it. All of it."

The major mobile carriers are giving people some time to figure it out, but not much. Initially, they planned to have the 3G Sunset completed by 2022. That has been pushed back. Now, the major carriers will shut down 3G on the following dates:

  • AT&T: February 28
  • Sprint: March 31
  • T-Mobile: July 1
  • Verizon: December 31

Bharadia says most people will notice the change through their car's emergency equipment.

"Imagine pressing the SOS button and getting no response," he says, adding that other systems like Auto Theft Recovery will stop working as well.

Many car and mobile companies have been sending notices out for the past year. Some offer free upgrades to 4G or 5G-enabled hardware. But in many cases, the messages state "there is no technology upgrade available" and don't offer solutions.

Bharadia says people should take action to find out exactly what devices will and won't work after the 3G Sunset.

"Every wireless device gets something called an FCC ID," he explains. "You can take that FCC ID and learn whether you are going to get impacted or not."

Bharadia says the website FCCID.IO is a good starting point where people can search individual devices to find out what technology it supports.

The FCC also has awebsiteto help people prepare. It includes information on rebate programs and other low-cost options for new technology.

In the meantime, Shastri says he's hopeful someone can invent a patch or workaround to let 3G devices work on 4G or 5G networks.

"Challenge is at the root of what this country thrives upon, engages, and wins on," he says. "We thrive on that. So, if anybody is going to do anything about it, it's going to have to be the US."