There’s nothing like an abrupt shutdown of a mobile phone to get someone’s attention.
Verizon is telling customers that if they’re still using a 3G CDMA or 4G (non-VoLTE) phone that does not support its newer network technologies, “your line will be suspended without billing and will lose the ability to call, text, or use data.”
Verizon is the last of the Big 3 wireless carriers in the U.S. to shut down a 3G network and repurpose the spectrum for newer technology. AT&T was first, shutting its 3G network down in February. T-Mobile’s shuttered its 3G network over the summer but probably drew the most attention with the decommissioning of Sprint’s old 3G CDMA network earlier this year because it created such a big impact for Dish Network and its Boost Mobile customers.
Verizon has been working with customers – both consumers and businesses – since 2016 to ensure customers have “every opportunity” to get a device that uses either 4G or 5G, including direct outreach to customers and even sending some customers updated devices proactively, according to Karen Schulz of Verizon’s Global Network & Technology Communications team.
Indeed, the company initially said it was closing its 3G network in 2019. Then they extended it to the end of 2020 and finally, to the end of 2022. In March 2021, Verizon made it clear they were sticking with the 2022 end date and advised customers still accessing the 3G network that they may experience a degradation or complete loss of service.
Earlier this year, the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) tried unsuccessfully to get AT&T to delay its 3G network shutdown, citing pandemic-related chip shortages, supply chain issues and labor shortages that meant they couldn’t make necessary upgrades. The group has not made those kinds of demands of Verizon, but AT&T also boasts a larger contingent of alarm connectivity customers.
Schulz said that in addition to migrating 3G devices onto 4G LTE or 5G, Verizon developed migration plans with most of its business customers to ensure any 3G devices they have in vehicles and equipment have been migrated to 4G LTE or 5G,
Even with all the advance notice, procrastinators may be startled to find their devices no longer work.
Adam Wolf, president of the National Wireless Independent Dealer Association (NWIDA), shared a letter from a dealer representing what some of his customers were getting.
The letter, sent by Verizon, states: “Starting the day before your December 2022 bill cycle begins, if you are a Verizon customer using a 3G CDMA or 4G phone device that does not support our newer network technologies, your line will be suspended without billing and will lose the ability to call, text, or use data.”
Until January 1, 2023, impacted phones will still be able to make 911 emergency calls and calls to Verizon Customer Service (at 611) while the line is suspended, the letter says, adding: “Starting the day before your February 2023 bill cycle begins, any remaining impacted lines that are still suspended without billing will be disconnected.”
For those customers who didn’t get letters or don’t read them, they could be in for a surprise.
“No matter how much you beg and plead, somebody is always going to be lagging behind,” Wolf said. “The fastest way to get their attention is to shut off their phone.”
From a logistics point of view, it “does kind of make sense that they’re doing it by billing cycle,” he said. “You never want to do anything to your entire base at the same time,” because then millions of people will be calling and yelling at customer service.
As Verizon warned, customers with 3G phones might have experienced a dead phone months ago. That’s because the shutdown is done in stages, similar to how T-Mobile reps were telling customers earlier this year not to wait until the last minute to upgrade, noted Wave7 Research principal Jeff Moore, whose family was among those receiving free phones as part of that upgrade.
“It varies locally” as transmitting equipment is shut down on this tower and that tower, he said.
Given the amount of notice that people had of Verizon’s 3G shutdown, there’s probably not going to be a large number of voice customers scrambling as the shutdown looms, he said.
“They’ve been communicating that it was going to be shut down since 2016 and I’ve been hearing about it even before then,” he said. “People have had plenty of notice at this point.”