Here’s why your old cellphone may be obsolete in 2022

BOSTON — Seventy-six-year-old Sandra White admits she doesn’t know much about her smartphone.

“I prefer the old ones,” White said. “Half the stuff on here I don’t even use because I don’t know how.”

Up until two years ago, White said she was still using her old flip phone, which she actually prefers.

“I see people my age, old like me, and they’re more used to [the older phones]. They can handle them better. All of this new technology, I admit I can’t keep up with it,” White said.

A lot of older cellphones, including the iPhone 5, iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S4, will become obsolete in 2022 as mobile providers make the switch to 5G networks. The FCC is warning consumers they may not be able to send text messages, access the internet, or make phone calls, including to 911, if they have models that are several years old.

“As mobile carriers seek to upgrade their networks to use the latest technologies, they periodically shut down older services, such as 3G, to free up spectrum and infrastructure to support new services, such as 5G. Similar transitions have happened before,” the FCC said in a release.

According to the FCC, 3G networks could be impacted as early as January 1, 2022. The agency provided a timeline of when carriers will complete shutting down their 3G networks:

  • AT&T announced that it will finish shutting down its 3G network by February 2022.
  • Verizon announced that will finish shutting down its 3G network by December 31, 2022.
  • T-Mobile announced that it will finish shutting down Sprint’s 3G CDMA network by March 31, 2022 and Sprint’s 4G LTE network by June 30, 2022. It also announced it will shut down T-Mobile’s 3G UMTS network by July 1, 2022, but has not yet announced a shutdown date for its 2G network.

AT&T posted a list of phones that will work on their network after next year. Verizon and T-Mobile have sections on their website dedicated to helping customers transition to 4G or 5G service plans.

“We worked for the past several years to help those who still have 3G devices transfer to devices capable of accessing the 4G LTE or 5G networks and continue to actively work with remaining 3G customers to migrate them to new devices and technology,” Verizon said in a press release. “As a result of those efforts, we can now report that more than 99% of our customers are using the enhanced features of 4G LTE or 5G, with less than 1% still accessing the 3G network.”

The FCC recommends customers contact their mobile provider for more information about their 3G retirement plan. Carriers may be offering discounted or free upgrades, and some devices may only require a software update.

“It is important to plan now so that you don’t lose connectivity, including the ability to call 911,” the FCC said.

“People who have access to the internet I think take it for granted and kind of assume everybody has access,” said Colin Rhinesmith, an assistant professor at the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons University.

Rhinesmith is also a member of the Boston Digital Equity Fund, a group that uses grants to help people in lower-income communities get smartphones and laptops.

“There’s the cost of internet access, which is expensive, but there’s also—and people forget—the cost of devices,” Rhinesmith said. “The fact that we’re potentially asking folks to invest in new technology--on top of the fact that the internet is already expensive--can be challenging.”

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