UScellular shuts off some 3G services as it upgrades LTE

As UScellular preps for an LTE bandwidth expansion, 3G data services have been turned off in some locations. 1X data and CDMA voice are still available. (Getty Images)

UScellular is working on a multi-year effort to eventually sunset its CDMA 3G network, as the regional carrier upgrades parts of its network with additional LTE bandwidth and capabilities.

UScellular confirmed to Fierce that as part of the work, some 3G data services have been shut off, including in Missouri.

“In Missouri, we began upgrading our network in preparation for an LTE bandwidth expansion that will increase data speeds,” a UScellular spokesperson said. “We still have CDMA service, only EVDO (3G Data) was turned off as part of these upgrades. 1X data and CDMA voice are still available.”

EV-DO stands for Evolution data-optimized – it uses CDMA-based 3G technology for highspeed mobile data.

Since 98% of UScellular’s traffic in Missouri is LTE, the company doesn’t expect many customers to be affected, the spokesperson noted.

“Previous markets that have undergone this change have seen LTE speeds double in many cases,” the spokesperson added.

RELATED: UScellular preps for holiday season, hires for 300 roles

UScellular did not disclose how many, or which other markets have already seen high-speed 3G data turned off. The spokesperson did not share a set timeline for 3G sunset, other than the process will “span multiple years.”

Chicago-based UScellular has around 5 million customers and has undertaken 4G LTE upgrades (including wrapping up a VoLTE upgrade in 2020) while also deploying 5G. It’s been using 600 MHz spectrum for 5G and plans to augment with mid-band (like recently acquired C-band in key markets and CBRS) and millimeter wave.

During second quarter earnings, UScellular executives said a mmWave fixed wireless access (FWA) product it's trialing could be on the market and generating meaningful profit in 2022, while also citing encouraging extended-range FWA tests in the 24 GHz and 28 GHz bands in rural areas.

RELATED: UScellular extends mmWave reach for rural areas in 5G FWA trial

The sunset of 3G networks has been a topic of interest as carriers shift and reallocate resources, including existing spectrum, to newer technologies. The most heated has arguably been the coming shutdown of T-Mobile’s legacy Sprint CDMA network, which ruffled feathers for Dish and its Boost Mobile prepaid brand that argue the January 1, 2022 sunset date is significantly earlier than expected. The CDMA shutdown by T-Mobile has also garnered attention from the Department of Justice and the California Public Utility Commission. The carrier expects to finish shuttering Sprint’s legacy LTE network by June 30, 2022, but it hasn’t announced dates for its own 2G or 3G shutdowns.

For AT&T, participants in the alarm and medical alert system industry have raised concerns about the carrier’s 3G shutdown – slated for completion in February 2022.

Verizon has stated plans to shutter 3G systems by December 31, 2022.

RELATED: AT&T: Delay in 3G sunset would ruin 5G rollout

Those are completion dates, but portions of the carriers’ respective 3G networks will likely be shut off earlier. Sunsetting 3G networks impact people that don’t have 4G-capble phones or devices, or have older 4G devices that don’t support voice over LTE (VoLTE). Some devices can be upgraded to VoLTE with a software update.