3G networks are shutting down in 2022, along with millions of phones

Joe Supan

Oct 20, 2021 — 3 min read

All three major cellphone carriers are retiring their 3G networks to make room for faster 5G speeds, making millions of phones obsolete.

engineer working on mobile network

If you’ve been on the fence about upgrading your old phone, you might not have a choice anymore. Beginning in 2022, all three major cellphone carriers — AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon — will shut down their 3G networks. 

Most people won’t notice this change at all. The vast majority of Americans have been using 4G networks for the better part of a decade, and many have started the transition to 5G in recent years. 

That said, millions of people will have to buy a new phone if they want to call, text or dial 911 when 3G networks are switched off in 2022. According to the mobile industry firm GSMA Intelligence, only 4% of all cellphone connections were over 3G in 2020, a number that’s likely gone down even further in the past year. Still, that translates to millions of people who will be affected by the switch. 

When will 3G networks shut down?

The shutdown will start in January 2022 and continue throughout the year. Right now, the carriers are proceeding as if these dates are a sure thing, but the Federal Communications Commission recently heard comments from people concerned about the shutdown, which could lead to dates being pushed back. Here’s when each carrier expects to finish shutting down its 3G network. 

  • Sprint 3G: Jan. 1, 2022
  • AT&T 3G: Feb. 2022
  • Sprint 3G: March 31, 2022
  • Sprint LTE: June 30, 2022
  • T-Mobile 3G: July 1, 2022
  • Verizon 3G: Dec. 31, 2022

If you don’t see your carrier listed here, your 3G network may still be shutting down. Smaller wireless carriers like ​​Cricket, Boost and Straight Talk utilize AT&T’s, T-Mobile’s and Verizon’s networks, so they’ll face the same shutdown dates. 

How do I know if I have a 3G device?

If you have a 3G device, your carrier should have told you about the shutdown by now. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon say they’ve been sending texts, letters, emails and phone calls over the last several months to customers who will be affected. If you haven’t heard anything from them, you’re probably in the clear. To double-check, you can log into your account online or give your cellphone company a call directly. 

If you’re wondering about a phone that’s not currently on a cellphone plan, there are a few ways to check if it will still work after the shutdown. Any iPhones older than the iPhone 6 will no longer be able to make calls or use data — including the iPhone 5, 5C and 5S — and Samsung Galaxy S4s or older will no longer work, either. If you have another brand, you can go on the manufacturer’s website to find out if it will still be supported. 

How to get a new phone

Many cellphone carriers are offering free or low-cost replacement phones to people who are affected by the 3G shutdown. Your best bet is to visit a store in-person or call their customer service number to find out exactly what your options are.

If you don’t want to shell out thousands of dollars for the latest smartphone, another good option is to purchase a refurbished phone. These phones typically perform just as well as new models for a fraction of the price. In fact, a Consumer Reports survey found that people who bought refurbished phones actually had fewer complaints than those who bought new ones. 

There are also a number of government programs and nonprofit organizations that can connect low-income households with a new phone for cheap. Lifeline provides a subsidy of $9.25 towards your cellphone bill each month, while nonprofits like Close the Gap refurbish donated devices. 

What to do with your old phone

If you have to get rid of your old phone because it can no longer make calls or access data, chances are it won’t fetch much value on the resale market. That said, you can still connect it to Wi-Fi, so it can be used as a dedicated travel TV, game machine, alarm clock or picture frame.

If you simply want to get rid of your old phone, you’ll need to recycle it responsibly. Best Buy has a great electronics recycling program, and allows you to drop off up to three items per day. You can also utilize organizations like Call2Recycle and Earth911 which direct you to recycling drop offs in your area.

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Joe Supan

Written by:

Joe Supan

Principal Writer, Broadband Content

Joe is a senior writer for CNET covering home technology and broadband. Prior to joining CNET, Joe led MYMOVE’s moving coverage and reported on broadband policy, the digital divide, and privacy issues for the br… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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