As 5G wireless networks appear to be on the horizon, and wireless carriers invest more to bring 4G service to more areas of the United States, 3G looks to be on borrowed time, reports The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets.
AT&T has said it plans to stop providing services to devices that use 3G wireless technology in early 2022, while Verizon recently warned it will disconnect old 3G cellphones at the end of 2019.
The end of 3G in the U.S. does not come as too much of a surprise as carriers have spend billions of dollars during the last 10 years to cover the country with 4G service. Cell phone users can download data 10 times faster with 4G LTE (long term evolution) service than it could with 3G. A similar practice took place in the 1990s when telecom companies encouraged analogy cell phone users to the initial digital standards and then persuaded 2G users to upgrade to wireless technologies with the 3G label.
Dropping 3G is a necessity for wireless carriers, according to The Wall Street Journal. Today, more cell phone users have unlimited data plans and stream more videos, which tests how much service providers can handle. As less customers use 3G, there will be more wireless frequencies for 4G signals over broader parts of the radio spectrum.
According to a recent filing, Verizon stated it was “aggressively re-farming 3G bands” for 4G, but needed more spectrum to keep up with users’ demands. Meanwhile, AT&T has stated 11% of its postpaid customers were still using 3G service at the end of last year. According to research firm Ovum, more than 85 million devices still use 3G—that includes smartphones, tablets and other devices that rely on wireless connectivity like vehicle-location trackers. Prepaid cell phone users could also be affected by these changes.
As T-Mobile awaits approval of its acquisition of Sprint, the companies have not revealed when they would end their 3G service. However, T-Mobile did say it would avoid past mistakes if its merger with Sprint is approved.
While a lot of telecom executives have put their attention on 5G, the end of 4G service won’t be happening anytime soon, The Wall Street Journal reports. Engineers are still working on writing 5G standards and telecom companies believe 5G won’t become commonplace for years. Plus, companies aren’t as in much of a rush to end 4G because it will be able to work alongside 5G. In the past, carriers could only devote a band of wireless spectrum to one technology at a time.
Verizon executive Ronan Dunne told investors at a February 21 meeting that its 5G service will reach 30 cities this year, according to The Wall Street Journal. AT&T reported its 5G service hit portions of 12 cities at the end of last year, and the carrier expects to provide nationwide 5G service in 2020.