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3G shutdown is coming – here’s how it affects you

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3G shutdown is coming – here’s how it affects you

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B3G (before 3G): At that time, cell phones were mainly used for talking and texting. Of course, you could load a website, but you can also snowshoe from New York to Alaska in the same amount of time.

CBE (Cellular Broadband Era): Once the skies opened and cell towers ushered in 3G, we got it all: fast mobile web browsing, apps that let you call a car (or a burrito) to your doorstep, and an endless stream of selfies. And it only accelerated over time.

Starting next month, the third-generation wireless networks that served as the rocket propellant for the smartphone will be permanently disabled.

The three major US mobile carriers will shut down their old 3G networks this year to free up more wireless spectrum for 5G. AT&T will be the first, on February 22. By July, T-Mobile might be gone. Finally, Verizon, before the clock strikes 2023. Carrier 4G networks will remain.

How will this affect you? It probably won’t. According to a company spokesperson, only 1% of AT&T consumers own devices that rely on 3G. Think of it this way: Apple hasn’t released a 3G phone since the iPhone 4S, ten years ago.

If you’re part of this small group, however, your old phone will be cut off. No more phone calls. More texts. No.

A text message from Cricket Wireless warning of impending 3G shutdown.


Joanna Stern/The Wall Street Journal

Your mobile carrier may have contacted you with upgrade offers. As you’ll see in my video, to relive the glory years of 3G, I got an iPhone 4 running on Cricket Wireless, powered by AT&T’s network. When I spoke with customer service about why my service kept dropping, the rep explained the upcoming 3G shutdown and offered me a new Android phone for $10. If you haven’t heard from your carrier and think you have a 3G phone, call or stop by a store.

You might also hear from your alarm system provider. Many alarm and emergency call systems have relied on 3G to communicate with central service stations. They will likely upgrade your gear. Be aware that other 3G products may also struggle, including older cellular Kindles from Amazon (there are trade-in offers to cover some of the cost) and connected devices such as smart dog collars. Some devices, including these older phones, may still work over Wi-Fi for limited purposes.

Even if you are not directly impacted by the shutdown of 3G, allow me to remind you that 3G has already impacted your life. Highligths.

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

As 3G heads to the grave, let’s all take a moment to remember all it has brought us:

A working mobile web

The first iPhone ran on 2G, and using that first phone to surf sites on Safari was about as fast as a midday DMV line. In 3G, it was more like being at a McDonald’s drive-thru. Apple and AT&T, the exclusive US cellular carrier for the iPhone for the first four years, released the iPhone 3G twice as fast as the original iPhone. In his article on the iPhone 3G published by the Wall Street Journal in 2008, my predecessor, Walt Mossberg, found that it was up to five times faster.

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Remember Safari’s blue loading bar? An iPhone 4 running on a 3G network, in 2022.


Kenny Wassus/The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Fadell remembers the first time he saw the iPhone 3G working in Apple’s labs. “Websites and email attachments loaded instantly and we were like, ‘Oh my God.’ knew something was about to change.

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

Location-based apps

Our 3G phones were not only faster, they were better at determining our location, using a combination of Wi-Fi, GPS and cellular. Farewell, Garmins and TomToms sucked onto our windshields.

We not only got better navigation and map features, but we also got Uber.

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3G brought better location services, giving rise to applications such as Uber.


Kenny Wassus/The Wall Street Journal

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

“Using GPS capability and software with our network, they could basically locate their cars at all times,” Mr. de la Vega told me when I called him last week on an iPhone 3G, with the service of H2O Wireless on the AT&T network. “It was an aha! moment when you saw how well it worked and how all of these things came together.

Sharing photos and videos

In 2008, at the unveiling of the iPhone 3G, Steve Jobs demonstrated the phone’s new high-speed cellular connection and new App Store. Coincidence or fate?

“Everyone was yelling at us that we needed 3G for what was 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 at the end of 2010, we started seeing the current staples of social media apps – Instagram, Twitter and Facebook – with their photo feeds. Instagram, in particular, was all about quickly uploading mobile photos for your friends to see.

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And then came Instagram: 3G networks made sharing photos on the go much faster.


Kenny Wassus/The Wall Street Journal

Ultimately, these applications demanded more than 3G could deliver. “4G has brought even faster data speeds and more capacity to handle more downloads and larger downloads,” said Matt Knebl, senior product manager at Ookla, an internet testing and analytics company. “The video turned out to be the killer 4G app.”

Netflix and YouTube operated on 3G but they thrived on a 4G connection. Smartphone screens got bigger, cameras on them got better, and then watching and downloading on them became second nature.

And after?

So thank you, 3G, for paving the way for our new go-anywhere handhelds and their endless applications. Thanks, 4G, for making this all faster and pushing screens to the size of a football field. Thank you, 5G, for… something?


What will the shutdown of 3G mean for you? Join the conversation below.

Everyone I spoke to for this article agreed that 5G – faster than 4G with much lower latency – will spark another wave of innovation. Nevertheless, it may not change much to our smartphones.

Will it be the network that powers mixed reality headsets and self-driving cars? Will this allow all of our technologies to play better together? May be. And most likely, I’ll be writing a column about the death of 5G 15 years from now, paying homage to all the changes it’s brought to this world. But for now, it’s RIP 3G.

Write to Joanna Stern at

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