3G networks in the U.S. will be retired at the end of this year. Unlike their predecessor (2G), these 3G networks will be replaced much faster with more current technology. As we previously reported, AT&T has already turned off its 3G network, and T-Mobile will do the same in July. Verizon plans to shut down its 3G service by December, largely due to the development of their 4G and 5G networks.
“5G in particular is much more spectrum-hungry than earlier generations of wireless,” writes IEEE Spectrum reporter Michael Koziol. “Shutting down 3G networks opens up valuable bandwidth to improve 5G coverage and performance.”
Americans have had access to 3G since the early 2000s. Overall, its tenure has been far shorter than 2G, which was released in the early 1990s. While most 2G networks have already been shut down, some will continue to be active until the end of 2022.
Challenges When Sunsetting 3G
However, sunsetting 3G won’t be simple or easy. The specific shut down dates only specify when the companies are no longer obligated to provide 3G. Sundeep Rangan, the associate director of NYU Wireless, told Koziol that the companies will have to shut off their 3G equipment at each site, then dismantle it or repurpose it for 4G and 5G, a process that can take days if not weeks.
According to Rangan, companies are sunsetting 3G networks because their bandwidth is needed to enhance 5G coverage. While most people today have phones equipped with 4G or 5G, many who have not upgraded may find themselves without services once 3G is officially retired. However, there are other devices, such as vehicle GPS systems, medical alert systems, and security systems, that still depend on 3G, making the decision to turn these networks off controversial. In response to concerns raised to the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T said it has given companies and individuals three years to upgrade their devices.
Writing in CIO Magazine, Ed Fox, CTO of MetTel, a telecommunications provider in New York City, states that it’s imperative for businesses to understand how the 3G sunset will affect their inventory and their businesses, and urges them to take appropriate measures with vendors to upgrade wireless devices and services. According to Fox, upgrading could involve a number of changes, whether it’s something as easy as updating to a newer device or “patching or upgrading fixed wireless solutions from several manufacturers prior to the 3G deadlines.”
“Transitioning away from such essential technology can be hard and complicated, with all kinds of unforeseen problems arising,” he writes. “However, it’s important to keep in mind that these technologies are going away because the successors they’ve spawned, including 4G, 5G, fiber, cellular, and VOIP networks, offer such incredible capabilities that they’ve utterly transformed productivity and the key capabilities of businesses across virtually every industry.”
While 4G networks will remain active after the 3G shutdown, there will also come a day when they too will be replaced by 5G. Furthermore, as technology becomes more advanced, the switch to these future wireless networks may happen even more quickly.
Learn More About 5G Networks
As the telecommunications landscape continues to evolve, it’s vital for technical professionals and industry leaders to understand how to deliver on the 5G vision while meeting the demand for higher communication speeds. Is your organization ready? Consider training your team with 5G Networks, an online course program from IEEE and Nokia.
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Fox, Ed. (9 March 2022). 3G shutdown paves the way for 5G, but there’s a catch. CIO.
Koziol, Michael. (1 March 2022). 3G’s Sunset Takes Aging Cars and Medical Devices With It. IEEE Spectrum.