AT&T causes mass confusion with 3G shutdown announcement

AT&T has announced its 3G network will be switched off, prompting confusion with customers as to whether new phone purchases are needed or not.

On the AT&T forums customers have been trying to figure out whether a prompt from AT&T to purchase new phones is a scam or not. It is true AT&T will be turning off its 3G network, meaning customer devices will have to be HD Voice ready to be compatible with the network, however, the telecoms operator seemingly did not emphasise one important detail; the 3G network will be operational until 2022.

On the AT&T website, the company has provided the full information (or perhaps edited the original post) though messages sent to customers are not as forthcoming.

“I just received an email from AT&T that their network is no longer compatible to my device and I must upgrade,” kris03 said. “First off, this email to me sounded fishy. There was odd letters and numbers in the email address line. With this ongoing pandemic unfortunately you have to be very careful what’s real and not a scam. Is this legit or no?  My phone is over a year old, an Android S10e. Thanks!”

“I had the same email,” John_w_g said. “I confirmed my phone supports 4G and HD voice, which is what ATT said was needed. There are many more phones than what they list that support both 4G and HD voice. Someone is either lazy, or lying.”

“Scam for sure,” Sandblaster said. “No year old phone is not going to be suddenly incompatible. An S10e definitely not incompatible.”

“I received an email that my phone won’t be working on their ‘new network’,” said  zeppelin1985. “But I just looked at a PDF file which lists which phone will work on their ‘new network’ and see my phone IS on the list. So, which is it?”

While this is another example of a telecoms operator proving offering poor communication with customers, the shutdown should not come as a surprise. 3G spectrum can be a valuable asset for 4G and 5G connectivity services.

AT&T currently has 3G spectrum in the 850 MHz and 1900 MHz bands which it has started to reconfigure ahead of bolstering the LTE Advanced and 5G network segments. The company has already shut down its 2G network, in January 2017, to free up spectrum for 5G networks, though it was managed in a more effective way than what we are seeing today.

The announcement comes at a time where the two leading US telcos, AT&T and Verizon, contemplate the head start T-Mobile has in the 5G race. While much attention has been afforded to mmWave spectrum as a means to deliver 5G connectivity, it has been a flop. T-Mobile, on the other hand, has access to mid-band spectrum thanks to the acquisition of Sprint. Its spectrum portfolio is looking a lot healthier.

While there is potential for mmWave as part of the broader spectrum mix, the mid-band airwaves are proving to be much more valuable to telecoms operators delivering 5G today. The higher you move up in the frequency ranges, you do get more speed, but the sacrifice is coverage. mmWave is providing excellent download speeds, but unless you are sat on top of a radio antenna, you’re unlikely to be connected to 5G for very long.

There are moves being made by the FCC to free up more mid-band spectrum for auction, however legal and bureaucratic complications are a threat to the timetable. The telcos will have to look for alternative means to find spectrum to underpin the 5G experience as a security net, but one would hope the communication with customers is better than what AT&T has delivered here.

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  1. Avatar Michael V 24/07/2020 @ 8:32 pm

    Ah, 3G-HSPA+. Here in UK we’re still living with 2G-GSM, in addition to 3G. Unfortunately there’s no word on shutdown, but HSPA+ will be gone before GSM. For example, GSM is used by Vodafone for their NB-IoT services & devices.

    For every consumer to have a 4G Voice / VoLTE supported phone, we have to buy directly from the Mobile Network Operator.
    If we push forward with more re-farming 3G-HSPA bands, we could see more VoLTE coverage from Vodafone, Three, O2, EE.

    • Avatar Nick 23/06/2021 @ 1:51 am

      2G is important in the UK because many systems depend on it like smart meters and also 2G travels further than the others meaning very rural and remote areas still get some signal so that people can call emergency services.

      3G will shut down before 2G because as months go by and as 4G and 5G improve, it is becoming obsolete. 2G will act as a back up

      Three (Hutchison 3G) has never had a 2G network.

      Vodafone has announced that they will be shutting down 3G before 2G over the next 2 years.

      Phones that do not support 4G and 5G will continue to work with 2G and WiFi, it’s not ideal but does not render the device completely useless.

  2. Avatar Tom 19/08/2020 @ 7:49 pm

    Well nobody will able to roam on ATT cellular network. 3G/HSPA has several big advantages over LTE Network. There are only four bands UMTS2100/1900/900/850. The voice by the default is working without problems. Until now there is not VoLTE roaming as usual as in case of voice roaming in UMTS roaming. LTE has too many bands and only handful smartphones are able to use all LTE bands and their have problems with VoLTE. Most foreign Cellular providers don’t provide for their customers VoLTE roaming, only DATA roaming in LTE network. No roaming from outside no money from roaming customers.

  3. Avatar Sandra Smith 21/03/2021 @ 9:46 am

    Will that be doing away with the dollar plan

  4. Avatar David 21/08/2021 @ 5:29 pm

    A Complete Cluster Pluck

    In January I received a message from AT&T saying the change will take place in Feb. of 2022. Yesterday all of my outgoing calls went to a new voice mail by some creepy guy who sounds like a child molester. To make matters worse they insist on getting your password so they can fix the problem (although all of their texts tell you AT&T will never ask for your password. Everything about this sounds fishy. The altered change over date, the creepy dude on the AT&T message, and the fact they refuse to speak to you unless you hand over your password. Thanks AT&T but I have enough problems with identity theft in the real world. You botched this job Biggly! It’s easier for me to simply change carriers than to drive all the way to an AT&T store to check out the validity of what appears to be a scam.

  5. Avatar Melanie 08/02/2022 @ 10:51 pm

    I live in rural WV and 2G gave us better service than we could have hoped for with a service booster. Then, when they switched it off, 3G was alright and improved gradually…and now that the service is getting steadily better and staying that way in our area (which like I said we STILL have to use a cellular booster even to have service) they’re going to shut down 3G.

    There’s just no damn hope for rural to stay connected to anything except maybe Starlink at this point.

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