Photo: Sam Rutherford
Usually when companies make major changes to their services, a little advanced notice is a good thing. Unfortunately, when AT&T recently began sending out emails telling customers that their phones would no longer work on its network when AT&T phases out support for 3G, the carrier forgot to include one important detail: Its 3G network support isn’t slated to go away until sometime in 2022.
Sadly, this meant that anyone who received the email who wasn’t already familiar with the roadmap for AT&T’s network (which is probably most people), was suddenly confronted with the threat of their device possibly losing service, with their only recourse being to quickly buy a new phone.
Even in the best of times, being told that you need to spend hundreds of dollars to replace what appears to be a fully functioning phone is super annoying. But when that kind of email hits your inbox during a pandemic, a time in which most people’s budgets are already stretched thin, then it might feel like the company is being both callous and greedy.
Based on screenshots sent to Android Police, AT&T’s email began with a big “Update Needed” header in all caps, before explaining that with AT&T currently focused on building out its 5G network, it would be reducing support for 3G, meaning older devices would lose cellular connectivity. But nowhere in the email did AT&T mention that that change would not happen until 2022, which is a full 18 months away. That’s more than enough time for a significant number of customers to naturally upgrade their phones without feeling pressured, assuming you had enough info to make an informed decision.
That said, to AT&T’s credit, after Gizmodo reached out to the company for a comment regarding its email, an AT&T spokesperson responded with an official statement that said:
“This email was one of many planned to keep customers informed about the shutdown of our 3G network in early 2022. It should have included the date that certain devices would no longer be supported. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused and will be more clear in future updates.”
Meanwhile, for AT&T customers concerned about older devices losing cell service in 2022, what you need to know going forward is that AT&T is planning to consolidate its network around 4G and 5G, and use some of the spectrum currently devoted to 3G to help beef up its 4G/5G coverage.
That means for a device to have full support on AT&T’s future network, it will need to be at least 4G-ready and have support for AT&T’s HD Voice protocol. Where things get tricky is that the user who sent in the screenshot claims they are currently using a Galaxy S10e, which was released not that long ago in the spring of 2019 and was even available directly from AT&T.
However, sometimes for users who use unlocked devices or bring their phones over to a new network from previous carrier, AT&T’s HD Voice protocol may not be properly activated or whitelisted, which could cause issues for customers when AT&T does start to phase out support for its 3G network.
Still, 2022 is a long time away, so while it’s important to know what AT&T has in store for its network, it’s a bit too early to start panicking. And hopefully next time, AT&T will be a bit more clear when it sends out an important alert.