“It’s time to say goodbye to 3G, the wireless technology that gave our phones near-instantaneous access to the web and helped make everything from the Apple App Store to Uber an everyday part of our lives. More than two decades after its launch, wireless service providers are shutting down 3G to clear the way for its faster and flashier successor: 5G.
The expansion of 5G is welcome news for the growing number of people with 5G-enabled devices, and it could be a critical step toward more advanced technologies, like self-driving cars and virtual reality. But the 3G shutdown will also disable an entire generation of tech: everything from 3G phones to car crash notification systems. For the people who rely on these devices, this transition will cut off a cellular network they’ve depended on for years, and in some cases, disconnect crucial safety equipment.
“The number of 3G devices has been decreasing steadily,” Tommaso Melodia, the director of Northeastern’s Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things, told Recode. “Now it’s at the point where carriers are starting to say, ‘It doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to continue to use these precious frequency channels for 3G. Let’s turn it off.’”
Ideally, wireless providers could keep both 3G and 5G networks up and running, but the physics of the radio spectrum that cellular technology relies on means that companies have to make a choice. The radio spectrum includes a wide range of frequencies, which are used to connect everything from AM/FM radios to wifi networks, and is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Because there are a limited number of frequencies the agency sets aside for cellular service, wireless providers have to divide up the spectrum that they’re allocated to run multiple networks, including their 3G, 4G, 5G, and eventually 6G, services.”