Older man being handed a flip phone.

(Credit: Peter Austin / Getty Images)

Older adults and low-income Americans using older medical devices, cell phones and alert and alarm systems will need to replace or upgrade those devices ahead of a shutdown of 3G cellular networks and service, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Mobile carriers are phasing out their 3G networks, which rely on older technology, to make room for their more advanced 5G network services. As a result, older 3G mobile phones and certain older 4G mobile phones that do not support Voice over LTE will not be able to make or receive calls and texts — including 911 services — or use data services. 

The 3G network shutdown will affect medical devices, alert systems, mobile phones, tablet computers, smart watches, vehicle SOS services, home security systems and other connected products using 3G network services. The AARP cites an estimate that as many as 10 million people will need new phones.

Plans and timing to phase out 3G services vary by company. AT&T announced it would finish shutting down its 3G network by Feb. 22, whereas Verizon‘s 3G network shutdown will take place by Dec. 31. T-Mobile announced it will shut down Sprint’s 3G CDMA network by March 31, Sprint’s 4G LTE network will shut down by June 30 and T-Mobile’s 3G UMTS network will be gone by July 1. No shutdown date has been announced for T-Mobile’s 2G network.

Many budget carriers — Cricket, Boost, Straight Talk and Lifeline mobile service providers — use the three major carrier networks and also will be affected. Some carrier websites provide lists of devices that will no longer be supported after 3G networks shut down, and discounts or free upgrades may be available.

The FCC offers programs to help eligible consumers with the cost of phone or internet services:

  • FCC’s Lifeline program provides a discount on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers.

The 2021 Link-Age Technology Survey found that smartphone ownership (83%) is up from 2019 (74%), and 58% of older adults own tablet computers.