Helping my family member get a “free” 4G phone from T-Mobile was surprisingly complicated, especially since the company made it very clear that its 3G network would be down within weeks. They received a text saying they were eligible for a new 4G-compatible OnePlus phone — but unlike other carriers that give away free 4G phones — T-Mobile required a replacement device that was in good condition.
It was this requirement that made it difficult. My family member is using an iPhone 5S first purchased in 2014 and the phone screen keeps separating from the rest of the phone body. This iPhone 5S was originally purchased for Verizon and was not compatible with T-Mobile’s LTE network. The phone is rarely used otherwise because this family member prefers to use the iPad at home, so we have them on a very cheap $3/month prepaid plan.
Should I try to replace a clearly damaged iPhone? Should we dig up some other working phone and replace it? And since we are ultimately paying for the service, what happens if we can’t get that family member a new device before 3G ends?
These complications led me to think beyond the T-Mobile experience, and I reached out to the three major carriers, T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T, to find out how those carriers are helping customers who may need more time to move to a newer one. phone.
Ending 3G networks can be a good thing
While turning off 3G networks disconnects older phones and devices from accessing cellular networks, it creates several opportunities to improve phone functionality on feature phones and smartphones.
Anshel Sag, mobility analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, noted that customers’ shift away from these less secure devices is also moving them towards better calling experiences, such as higher voice quality audio calls over LTE.
“I think the consumer should have some level of choice, but at the same time, late adopters can become a burden on the rest of the user base when it comes to accessing new services,” Sag said. For example, these enhanced VoLTE calls are now available for both smartphones and 4G-enabled feature phones.
And while Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T are openly developing their 5G networks, customers who switch to 4G-only devices don’t have to worry about being forced to use another phone in the near future. Sag estimated that 4G LTE networks still have plenty of life left.
“We probably have another 10 years before 4G ends,” Sag said. He noted that the radio waves previously used for 3G may also change to accommodate faster 5G networks as operators work to improve their coverage.
While Sag noted that there will always be a percentage of customers who choose not to upgrade to newer devices, he said it remains in the best interest of carriers to either help ship new devices or stop charging.
“These customers are legacy customers who have been around for a very long time depending on how long 3G has been around,” Sag said.
Shutting down the T-Mobile (and Sprint) network.
T-Mobile is the latest carrier to shut down its 3G networks as it shut down its 3G UMTS network on July 1st. In addition to this network, T-Mobile also terminated Sprint’s 3G network on March 31. T-Mobile still has an older 2G network that is slated for retirement, but no clear dates have been set yet.
A T-Mobile spokesperson said affected customers have been notified and are still eligible for a free device exchange in exchange for their older 3G phone.
“Customers with 3G dependent phones who have not yet taken steps to upgrade are still eligible for a free exchange in exchange for their older 3G device. The vast majority of those with UMTS devices who have not yet upgraded are covered by T-Mobile services. 2G GSM network and continue to use the service,” the spokeswoman said.
T-Mobile also pointed us to its network development customer support page, which goes into more depth about customer outreach efforts and when each previous network ended.
AT&T stopped charging customers who didn’t upgrade
AT&T’s 3G network was shut down on February 22. Before the outage, the carrier posted on its support page that affected customers had been contacted and may have received free phones or SIM cards in the mail to maintain coverage.
If an AT&T customer has not activated a 4G-compatible device, they will no longer be billed for service.
“If a customer’s billing cycle ended after the 3G service termination date, we have issued a credit and they will not receive additional bills,” AT&T said in a statement to CNET.
Verizon is the last to shut down and it’s time to get a free phone
Verizon’s 3G network will shut down on Dec. 31, giving customers months of time to switch to a device that’s at least compatible with its 4G LTE network.
Verizon is currently sending out free 4G phones to affected customers, which will be older flip phones from TCL, Nokia and Orbic. Devices require no replacement and are proactively shipped. Customers who do not want one of these phones can call the customer service line and decline the offer.
If a customer decides they don’t want to move their service to a 4G device, Verizon will stop charging once the 3G network is turned off.
“If a customer chooses to remain on a 3G device (despite extreme urging from callers or retail representatives), then that device will stop working at sunset. The customer will not be charged once disconnected from the network,” a Verizon representative said in an email OVERHANG.
If you need more time to change phones, you can still use your phone to back up important data
Once 3G networks are turned off completely, the phone you have will be completely useless. Even though it can’t connect to mobile data, you can still have limited access to features over Wi-Fi, such as accessing contacts and calling over Wi-Fi where supported.
While the exact processes will vary depending on whether you’re using a 3G-only smartphone or a basic phone, you should be able to ensure that your important contacts, calendars and notes stored on your phone are backed up to another service or saved, so that they can be downloaded to another device later.
Many 3G phones are likelyso while the device may work, it is important to ensure that it is not the only place where important information is stored.
Solving my family’s transition without T-Mobile’s help
Going back to my family member’s switch to 3G, I decided to bring my damaged iPhone 5S and long retired 2014 Moto E as a backup to a T-Mobile store. Both phones were rejected and when we asked the rep about other options he told me he couldn’t say anything.
The experience was understandably disappointing, and it seemed like we only had a few weeks left to decide whether it was worth buying a phone we knew would see minimal use.
We eventually solved it by finding another family member’s discarded iPhone SE and swapping out the SIM card for it, but it was quite clear from experience that another family might not be lucky enough to get a new phone.
A T-Mobile spokesperson told me it’s not the carrier’s policy to decline the deal, apologized for the experience and offered to resolve the issue through its customer care team.