Does your loved one have a cellphone or medical alert system manufactured before 2013? If so, he or she may not be able to use it much longer.
The 3G network on which these older devices operate is shutting down to make room for more advanced technology—a move that could leave some seniors unable to communicate with family members and – even more concerning – unable to call 911. If you’re not sure whether this change will affect the older adult in your life, make sure to keep reading to learn how to help.
How many seniors will this transition affect?
According to a 2021 survey by Pew Research, 61% of seniors ages 65 and up have smartphones, but that doesn’t count those who have traditional flip-style and 911-only phones. Any older adult who has a phone and isn’t sure whether it operates on 3G technology should be checking to see if their device will be affected.
Three major wireless carriers – Verizon, T-mobile/Sprint, and AT&T – say the 3G shutdown will impact their device models manufactured up until about a decade ago. Apple models made prior to iPhone 6 will no longer have service, and neither will Samsung products up to Galaxy S4. Devices from other carriers such as Cricket, Boost, Straight Talk and Lively will also stop working because they use these three main carriers’ networks.
Mike Haberman, Verizon’s Vice President, said the company has strived for the past five years to make customers aware of the imminent transition, and stated that 99% of Verizon customers have transferred to devices that operate on 4G LTE or 5G technology.
“Since 2016, we have stated publicly that we are actively decommissioning our 3G CDMA network,” he said. “Initially, we announced we would close down our 3G network in 2019. However, we extended our shut-off date – first to the end of 2020 and now to the end of 2022 – in order to care for our customers and give them every effort to minimize disruptions to their service as they move to newer and more advanced technologies.”
In addition to older cellphones ceasing to function, life alert systems, tablets, smart watches and home security systems may also be affected. In 2020, the Medical Alert Monitoring Association estimated that about 6 million people relied on 3G monitoring devices, but companies such as LifeStation and Medical Guardian have since been reaching out to subscribers to provide free upgraded 4G devices.
When will the 3G network shut down?
All major carriers will be ending 3G service in 2022. AT&T stopped operating its 3G service on Feb. 22. T-Mobile will finish shutting down Sprint’s 3G CDMA network by March 31 and T-Mobile’s 3G UMTS network by July 1. Verizon claims it should be finished by the end of this year.
How can I help as a caregiver?
All the mobile carriers say they have communicated with customers regarding the change; however, it’s common for elderly customers to misplace mail or forget what they discussed over the phone. And seniors who have mobile devices that aren’t provided by a carrier – such as 911 emergency-only phones – may not have received any notice. These are reasons why it’s so important for caregivers to help their loved ones check on the status of their devices.
If the shutdown means their phone is affected, you’ll need to help them upgrade to a new one, or help install a software update that enables it to keep working. Begin by checking to see if their carrier is offering any discounts or deals.
- Sprint says customers with 3G (CDMA) will be able to pay the same or less for T-Mobile 4G/5G service and can upgrade to a new device at no cost. Customers can simply log in to their accounts to check upgrade eligibility, view deals on the latest devices, and check out offers for a free 5G phone.
- AT&T is offering free new devices to its subscribers. They’ve already sent out many new phones in the mail, but if your loved one hasn’t received theirs, they can enter their phone number to register for a free upgraded phone.
- Verizon does not claim to be offering a discount on new devices, so be sure to contact the company directly to inquire.
If the senior in your life is not eligible to receive a free new phone from their carrier, suggest a low-cost option such as the Lively Jitterbug, which sells for $99 with monthly data plans starting at $14.99. Low-income seniors may also qualify for one of the following Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) programs:
- The Lifeline Program provides a discount on phone service to ensure seniors can stay connected to family and emergency services.
- The Affordable Connectivity Program provides a temporary discount of up to $30 per month toward broadband service and a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
Most medical alert device companies have contacted customers regarding the change and may have already provided upgrades. Medical Care Alert, which sells home and mobile personal emergency response systems, reports their customers who have not received an upgrade can call for a free replacement unit. Philips Lifeline said the company is in the process of sending out new 4G units to customers via FedEx, along with step-by-step instructions for setup. If you suspect your loved one has a 3G medical alert device and has not received a replacement, contact their provider as soon as possible to inquire.
Home alarm companies such as ADT and Bay Alarm report they have notified customers of the 3G sunset, and homeowners simply need to call them to schedule a time for a technician to upgrade it to 4G for free. To make sure the senior in your life stays safe, be sure to ask them if they received a call or letter, or check with their security company to see if they have an appointment scheduled.
Advocating for seniors’ safety
If you’re still not sure how your loved one will be affected by the 3G shutdown, make a few phone calls on their behalf. With enough involvement from caring friends and family, seniors nationwide will stay safe and secure as technology continues to evolve.