Over the years, Mia Lipsit has innovated a number of tech workarounds to avoid buying a smartphone: She’s hacked her Kindle Fire to download Google Play (so she can use the Whole Foods app), listens to podcasts on an old iPod, and stays in touch with friends using a flip phone.
But in October, the fiftysomething New York City resident realized her days of smartphone-free living are coming to an end. That’s when Verizon customer service informed her that, beginning January 1, her simple cellphone would be rendered useless by the sunsetting of 3G.
“It’s the end of an era,” says Lipsit, who has already acquired a used iPhone 7 and found a family plan to hop onto. “The phone gods have made their wishes clear. I feel like I fought against it for so long, and now I’m surrendering.”
Since 3G’s debut in 2001, more people entered the airwaves using 3G tech than any network before it. The network made cellphones capable of web browsing and video streaming for the first time, though at speeds about 500 times slower than the current standard cellular network 4G.
Now, after nearly two decades of service, during which it laid the groundwork for 4G and 5G, 3G is preparing to breahe its last.
All major U.S. carriers (T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon, as well as Cricket) have announced death dates for 3G support. Though these shutdowns have been repeatedly delayed, with Verizon most recently postponing its plan to shut down the network, it’s clear that 3G’s days are numbered. This month, T-Mobile has begun a piecemeal sunsetting by shutting down service to a host of older phones, some that operate on 3G.
Ending 3G will free up bandwidth for better 4G and 5G service. “Cellphones use radio frequency bandwidth,” explains Seva Epsteyn, a data communications engineer who helped create…