Here are your options if your 3G Phone separates

Here are your options if your 3G Phone separates

Tech Highlights:

  • That requirement is what made it difficult. My family member has been using an iPhone 5S first purchased in 2014, and the phone’s screen is steadily separating itself from the rest of the phone’s body. This iPhone 5S was originally purchased for Verizon and wasn’t compatible with T-Mobile’s LTE network. The phone is otherwise rarely used, as this family member prefers to use an iPad at home so we have them on a very cheap $3 per month prepaid plan.

  • Commentary: As 3G service in the US comes to an end, we inquire with the major carriers about disconnected customers’ financial obligations and the availability of free phones. It was extremely difficult to assist a member of my family in receiving a “free” 4G phone from T-Mobile, especially when the firm made it obvious that the 3G network will soon be discontinued. They did receive a text message informing them that they were qualified for a new 4G-compatible OnePlus phone, but T-Mobile demanded a trade-in of a working handset, unlike other carriers who are giving away 4G phones for free.

Should I attempt to trade in the clearly damaged iPhone? Should we dig out some other functioning phone and trade that in? And since we are ultimately paying for service, what happens if we can’t get this family member a new device ahead of the 3G shutdown? These complications led me to wonder wider than just this T-Mobile experience, and I reached out to the three major carriers T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T to find out how these carriers are assisting customers who may need more time before moving to a newer phone.

“I do think the consumer should have a certain level of choice but at the same time the straggling users can become a burden on the rest of the user base in terms of access to new services,” Sag said. Those enhanced VoLTE calls, for instance, are now available across both smartphones and 4G-capable basic phones. And even though Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T are openly developing their 5G networks, customers who move to 4G-only devices don’t need to worry about being forced onto another phone in the near future. Sag estimated that 4G LTE networks have plenty of life to go.

Wireless carrier logos on phones. The 3G networks for T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T have been retired, and Verizon’s is next. While the shutdown of 3G networks does disconnect older phones and devices from access to cellular networks, it does create several opportunities to improve phone functionality across basic phones and smartphones. Anshel Sag, a mobility analyst from Moor Insights and Strategy, noted that moving customers away from these less secure devices also moves them toward better calling experiences like higher-quality voice-over-LTE audio calls.

“We’re probably another 10 years until the 4G shutdown,” Sag said. He noted that radio waves previously used for 3G can also change to improve faster 5G networks as the carriers work to improve their coverage. While Sag noted there’s always going to be a percentage of customers who choose not to move to a newer device, he said that it remains in the carriers’ best interest to either help supply new devices or to stop billing. “These customers are legacy customers that they’ve had a very long time as a function of how long 3G has been around,” Sag said.

T-Mobile is the most recent carrier to retire its 3G networks, having turned off its 3G UMTS network on July 1. In addition to that network, T-Mobile also sunset Sprint’s 3G network on March 31. T-Mobile does still have an older 2G network that is slated for retirement, but no clear dates have been given just yet. A T-Mobile spokesperson said that affected customers were notified and are still eligible for a free replacement device by trading in their older 3G phone.

“Customers with 3G-dependent phones who have not yet taken action to upgrade are still eligible to receive a free replacement by trading in their older 3G device. The vast majority of those with UMTS devices who have not yet upgraded are covered by T-Mobile’s 2G GSM network and continue to receive service,” the spokesperson said. T-Mobile also pointed us to its network evolution customer support page, which goes into further depth about efforts to reach customers and the dates that each previous network reached retirement.

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