The 3G Shutdown Is Coming—Here’s How That Affects You

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AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile will shut down 3G for good this year. Even if you no longer have a 3G phone (and chances are you don’t), technology has definitely changed your life.

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CBE (Cellular Broadband Era): Once the skies opened up and cell towers ushered in 3G, we got it all: faster mobile web browsing, apps that let you call the car (or burrito) to your door, and an endless stream of selfies give. And with the passage of time it intensified.

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Starting next month, third-generation wireless networks that serve as rocket boosters for smartphones will be shut down forever.

All three major US cellular carriers will shut down their older 3G networks this year to free up more wireless spectrum for 5G. AT&T will be first, on February 22. As of July, T-Mobile’s May go, Finally, before Verizon, clock strike 2023, The carriers’ 4G networks will remain in place.

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How will this affect you? It probably won’t. According to a company spokesperson, only 1% of AT&T consumers have devices that rely on 3G. Think about it this way: Apple hasn’t released a 3G-powered phone since iphone 4s, a decade ago.

However, if you are part of that small group, your old phone will be disconnected. No more phone calls. No more text. Nada.

Your cellular carrier may have contacted you with an upgrade offer. As you’ll see in my video, to relive the years of 3G glory, I’ve got a working iPhone 4 on Cricket Wireless, powered by AT&T’s network. When I spoke to customer service about why my service was getting cut, the representative explained the impending 3G shutdown and offered me a $10. new for android phone, If you don’t get a notification from your carrier and think you might have a 3G phone, call or stop by a store.

You can also listen from your alarm-system provider. Many alarm and emergency call systems rely on 3G to communicate with central service stations. They will probably upgrade your equipment. Keep in mind that other 3G products, including older cellular Amazon Kindles, may also face difficulties (there are business proposal to pay some cost) and connected devices such as smart dog collars. Some devices, including older phones, can still run on Wi-Fi for limited purposes.

Even though you may not be directly affected by the 3G shutdown, let me remind you that 3G has already affected your life. big time.

“If we didn’t have 3G, we wouldn’t have the smartphone revolution,” Tony Fadell, former Apple senior vice president and co-inventor of the iPhone, told me.

As 3G heads toward the grave, let us all take a moment to remember what it has given us:

A working mobile web

The first iPhone worked over 2G, and using that early phone to surf sites on Safari felt as fast as an afternoon DMV line. On 3G, it was like being at a McDonald’s drive-thru. Apple and AT&T—the typical US cellular carrier for the iPhone for the first four years—marketed the iPhone 3G twice as fast as the original iPhone. In his 2008 Wall Street Journal iPhone 3G review, my predecessor Walt Mossberg found it to be up to five times faster.

Mr. Fadell recalls that he first saw the iPhone 3G working in Apple’s laboratories. “The website and email attachments were loading instantly and we were like ‘oh, my god. You can click around without any kind of friction. He said, “It felt like Wi-Fi. We knew something was about to change.”

And the web itself changed too. As more people started using their mobile browsers, developers began optimizing for smaller screens, making mobile sites easier to find information and navigate with a finger – not a mouse or stylus. When was the last time you waited for a website to load on your smartphone? Thanks 3G!

location-based apps

Our 3G phones were not only faster, but were better able to determine our location using a combination of Wi-Fi, GPS, and cellular. Goodbye, Garmins and TomToms have suctioned our windshields.

Not only did we get better navigation and map features, but we also got Uber.

Around 2011, Ralph de la Vega, then chief executive of AT&T Mobility, met Travis Kalanick, who had recently co-founded the fledgling ride-share startup. The two struck a deal to put 3G-enabled iPhones in Uber cars.

“Using GPS capability and software with our network, they can basically tell where their cars were at any given time,” Mr. de la Vega told me when I told him H2O on an iPhone 3G last week. Called with wireless service. On the AT&T network. “That was a sigh! That moment when you saw how well it worked and how all these things came together.”

photo and video sharing

Back in 2008, during the unveiling of the iPhone 3G, Steve Jobs demonstrated the phone’s new high-speed cellular connection and new App Store. Coincidence or luck?

“Everyone was yelling at us that we needed 3G for the stuff on the iPhone. Then we also had developers saying we needed an app store. Then they magically came together at the same time,” Mr. Fadell told me.

At first, simple flashlight apps were all the rage. But by the end of 2010, we started seeing current social-media app staples—Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook—with their photo-heavy feeds. Instagram, in particular, was all about uploading mobile photos faster for your friends to see.

Ultimately, these apps demanded more that 3G could deliver. “4G brings even faster data speeds and greater ability to handle larger uploads and downloads,” said Matt Neble, senior product director at Ookla, an internet testing and analysis company. “Video turns out to be the killer 4G app.”

Netflix and YouTube used to work on 3G but they flourished with 4G connections. Smartphone screens got bigger, the cameras on them got better, then watching and uploading on them became second nature.

What will happen next?

So thank you, 3G, for paving the way for our new go-anywhere pocket computers and their infinite number of apps. Thanks, 4G, for making it faster and making the screen the size of a football field. Thanks, 5G, for… anything?

The people I spoke to for this article agreed that 5G—faster than 4G and with much lower latency—will lead to another wave of innovation. Still, it may not replace our smartphones much.

Will it be the network that powers mixed-reality headsets and self-driving cars? Will it make our tech game better all together? Possibly. And probably in 15 or so years I will write a death-of-5G column that pays tribute to all the changes this world has brought. But for now, it’s RIP 3G.

Write Joanna Stern at [email protected]

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