When your 3G phone is disconnected, here are your options

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Helping a family member get a “free” 4G phone from T-Mobile was surprisingly complicated, especially since the company made it clear that its 3G network was pulling out within weeks. They received a text message saying they were eligible for a new 4G-enabled OnePlus phone — but unlike other carriers who give out free 4G phones — T-Mobile demanded trade-in for a device in good working order.

It was this requirement that made the task difficult. A relative of mine is using an iPhone 5S first purchased in 2014, and the phone screen is gradually separating from the rest of the phone body. This iPhone 5S was originally purchased for Verizon and was not compatible with T-Mobile’s LTE network. The phone is otherwise rarely used, as this member of the family prefers to use an iPad at home, so we have them on a very cheap prepaid plan of $3 per month.

Should I try to exchange the clearly damaged iPhone? Should we dig up another working phone and trade it in? And since we’re ultimately paying for the service, what if we can’t get that family member a new device before 3G shuts down?

These complications made me wonder beyond this T-Mobile experience, and I contacted the three major carriers T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T to find out how these carriers are helping customers who may need more time. before switching to a new call.

Wireless carrier logos on phones

3G networks for T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T have been retired, and Verizon’s is next.

Angela Lang/CNET

Ending 3G networks can be a good thing

Although the shutdown of 3G networks disconnects older phones and devices from accessing cellular networks, it creates several opportunities to improve phone functionality on basic phones and smartphones.

Anshel Sag, mobility analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, noted that moving customers away from these less secure devices also steers them towards better calling experiences, such as higher quality voice over LTE audio calls. .

“I think the consumer should have some level of choice, but at the same time struggling users can become a burden on the rest of the user base in terms of accessing new services,” Sag said. . These enhanced VoLTE calls, for example, are now available on 4G-enabled smartphones and basic phones.

And even though Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T are openly expanding their 5G networks, customers who upgrade to 4G-only devices don’t have to worry about being forced into another phone in the near future. Sag felt that 4G LTE networks still have a lot of life.

“We’re probably still 10 years away from 4G shutting down,” Sag said. He noted that the radio waves previously used for 3G may also change to improve faster 5G networks as carriers work to improve their coverage.

While Sag noted that there will always be a percentage of customers who choose not to upgrade to a newer device, he said it’s still in the interests of carriers to help deliver new devices or upgrades. stop billing.

“These customers are legacy customers that they’ve had for a very long time based on how long 3G has been around,” Sag said.

T mobile logo

T-Mobile’s 3G network is retired, but its 2G network is still active.

James Martin/CNET

Shutdown of the T-Mobile (and Sprint) network

T-Mobile is the latest carrier to retire its 3G networks, having turned off its 3G UMTS network on July 1. In addition to this network, T-Mobile also terminated Sprint’s 3G network on March 31. T-Mobile still has a legacy 2G network slated for retirement, but no specific date has been given yet.

A T-Mobile spokesperson said affected customers have been notified and are still eligible for a free replacement device by trading in their old 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 old 3G device. The vast majority of those with UMTS devices that do not ‘Have not yet upgraded are covered by T-Mobile’s 2G GSM network and continue to receive service,’ the spokesperson said.

T-Mobile also told us about its network evolution customer support page, which digs deeper into efforts to reach customers and the dates each previous network reached retirement.

AT&T logo on a mobile phone

End of AT&T’s 3G network in February.

James Martin/CNET

AT&T has stopped charging customers who haven’t upgraded

AT&T’s 3G network was shut down on February 22. Prior to the shutdown, the carrier posted on its support page that affected customers had been contacted and may have received free phones or SIM cards in the mail to maintain coverage.

In the event that an AT&T customer has not activated a 4G-enabled device, they will no longer be charged for the service.

“If a customer’s billing cycle ended after the 3G service deadline, we have provided a credit and they will not receive additional bills,” AT&T said in a statement to CNET.

Verizon logo

Verizon’s 3G network shut down at the end of 2022.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Verizon’s shutdown will be its last, and it’s time to get a free phone

Verizon’s 3G network will shut down on December 31, giving customers months to upgrade to a device compatible with at least its 4G LTE network.

Verizon is in the process of sending 4G-enabled phones to affected customers for free, which will be older flip phones made by TCL, Nokia and Orbic. Devices do not require trade-ins and are shipped proactively. Customers who do not want one of these phones can call customer service to decline the offer.

If a customer decides they don’t want to move their service to a 4G device, Verizon will stop charging once the 3G network shuts down.

“If a customer decides to stay on the 3G device (despite additional requests from call agents or retail representatives), that device will stop working at sunset. The customer will not be charged once ‘it will be disconnected from the network,’ a Verizon representative said. said in an email to CNET.

If you need more time to switch phones, you can still use your phone to back up important data

Once 3G networks are completely disabled, the phone you own will not be completely useless. Although it cannot connect to cellular data, you may still have limited access to features over Wi-Fi such as accessing your contacts and Wi-Fi calling where supported.

Although the exact processes differ depending on whether you are using a 3G-only smartphone or a basic phone, you should be able to ensure that your important contacts, calendars, and notes that reside on the phone are backed up to another service or saved so that they can later be loaded into another device.

Many 3G phones are susceptible no longer receiving security updatesand although the device may work, it is essential to ensure that it is not the only place where important information is saved.

iPhone SE and iPhone 8

A retired 2016 iPhone SE (similar to the model seen here on the left, paired with an iPhone 8) was able to fix my family’s 3G transition.

Cesar Salza/CNET

Solving my family’s transition without help from T-Mobile

Going back to a family member’s 3G transition, I decided to bring both the damaged iPhone 5S and a long-retired 2014 Moto E as a backup to T-Mobile’s store. Both phones were declined and when we asked the rep about other options he said he couldn’t say anything.

The experience was understandably disappointing and seemed to give us just a few weeks to decide if it was worth buying a phone that we knew would only be used sparingly.

We eventually solved this problem by finding another family member’s retired iPhone SE and swapping the SIM card, but experience made it clear that another family might not be able to simply get lucky with a new handset.

The T-Mobile spokesperson told me that store denial was not carrier policy, apologized for the experience, and offered to resolve the issue through their service team at the clientele.

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