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What to know as cell service providers shut down 3G networks

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Posted at 5:42 PM, May 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-03 19:59:21-04

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio — Aging 3G cellular networks are phasing out in Northeast Ohio, and the rest of the U.S., to make room for higher speed services like 4G and 5G. The shutdown could require updates to existing technology and leave some older devices without cell service.

Several providers, like AT&T and Sprint, have already shut down their 3G networks. Most others plan to follow suit by the end of 2022. The effort will free up some of the finite amounts of spectrum and infrastructure for newer, higher-speed networks.

“We’ve been through this before,” said Dan Surmitis, the owner and president of Northcoast Security, Inc. “The very first upgrade went from analog, which was essentially known as 1G but nobody called it that, to 2G. 2G was then sunsetted several years ago and then it went to 3G.”

With each new iteration, Surmitis explained, devices and technologies evolved to stay connected.

“There’s so much out there in the background that relies on cellular technology that just keeps chugging along: ATMs, vending machines, all types of things that need to be updated on a somewhat regular basis,” he said.

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) estimates less than 1% of mobile data still relies on 3G networks. Some older model cell phones may need to be replaced, but most smartphones require regular updates to stay compatible with apps and services.

“Everybody does update their cell phones on a regular basis and they don’t even think about it,” Surmitis said.

His security company has been busy calling customers to replace small 3G circuit cards in home security systems. The process takes 30 minutes and can be the difference in a functional system.

“Communications would stop,” he said.

Additionally, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) advisory said certain medical devices, tablets, smartwatches, vehicle SOS services, and other connected products may be using 3G services. Other devices could also use cellular connectivity as a backup when a wired internet connection goes down.

“If you haven’t heard from the company, I would call and ask them,” Surmitis recommended.

The FCC said some mobile service providers may be offering special deals on new devices to accommodate outdated technology. FCC programs may be able to assist with the cost of replacement phone or internet services.

Learn more about the FCC Lifeline program, which helps provide discounts on phone and internet services for qualifying low-income consumers here.

Local governments are also keeping an eye on the 3G shutdown. Fire and police alarm systems and ankle monitors used by law enforcement could all be impacted. News 5 reached out to Cuyahoga County to see if it expects any issues. A spokesperson said the Sheriff's Department is aware of the 3G shutdown and has been working to make sure monitors used to track suspects on house arrest are current. They say their vendor is aware of the change and expects no trouble.

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