Dear wise elder,
My 80-year-old dad has an old flip phone that he carries with him for emergencies, but I’ve heard these devices will be phased out soon. Is it true? If so, how do we know if his phone will be affected and where can I find him a new, simple one that he can use?
Yes, it’s true! If your dad’s cell phone is over a few years old, he will probably need to upgrade it in the very near future.
Because all of the major mobile carriers – AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile – will shut down their old 3G networks in 2022 to clear the airwaves for 5G and other advanced services. So if your dad uses an old 3G phone, like millions of other older Americans, he’ll need to get a new device if he’s going to make calls, text, or reach 911.
But, you should also know that it is not just the older cell phones that will be obsolete. Legacy home security systems, medical devices and personal emergency response systems that still use 3G will also be affected. Adding to the confusion, older 4G phones that do not support modern cellular voice technologies, such as Voice Over LTE or HD Voice, are also affected. These customers may need a software upgrade or a new phone.
Here are the 3G shutdowns timelines: AT&T – February 2022; T-Mobile – July 1, 2022; Verizon – December 31, 2022; Sprint (owned by T-Mobile) – March 31, 2022; and Sprint LTE – June 30, 2022. Other smaller operators like Tracfone, Cricket, Boost and Straight Talk will also be affected as they depend on the airwaves of the big three.
Is your phone affected?
Mobile operators say they have alerted customers who use older phones to the end of services, sending a combination of text messages, letters, phone calls and emails. If you’re unsure of your dad’s phone, contact his carrier or check his website for a list of affected devices.
Another way to see if your father’s phone is 3G is to look up his International Mobile Equipment ID number which can be found by pressing * # 06 # on his keypad. Once you have it, go to www.imei.info and type it in the search bar to get the phone details. If his phone has a frequency of 900 megahertz (MHz) or 2100 MHz, it is 3G. You can also look for a “3G” icon in the top corner of their phone, but not all 3G phones have this icon.
How to upgrade
If you find that you need to upgrade your dad’s cell phone, carriers offer special discounts and promotions on replacement devices. If you’re worried about your dad having to learn how to use a new device, you’ll be happy to know that there are plenty of new, modern flip phones out there that work on next-gen networks.
Or, if your dad decides he’d rather go ahead without a phone than upgrade, then he’ll have to cancel the service. Most operators will allow you to cancel your plan without any penalty. However, if he forgets to cancel his phone plan and doesn’t switch to an assistive device, the company won’t automatically stop billing him just because he isn’t able to access his network.
How to recycle
If your dad needs to replace his old cell phone, the best way to get rid of it is to recycle it. Large retailers, such as Best Buy, offer recycling programs for old electronics. You can also search for local recycling programs on websites such as Call2Recycle.org and Earth911.com.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, PO Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is an NBC contributor Today show and author of “The wise elder” delivered.