AARP WA advises people to help elderly relatives through 3G phase-out
Cell phone service providers are phasing out 3G service as 5G becomes the new norm — and that means for a lot of people, their devices will no longer work.
AT&T ended its 3G service earlier this year, and T-Mobile and Sprint are in the process of sunsetting 3G right now. Verizon will cut off service by the end of the year. Smaller companies behind pay-as-you-go phones, such as Cricket, may also be affected.
Christina Clem, a spokesperson for AARP Washington, said this especially will impact elderly people, who are more likely to have older, more basic models of smartphones or pay-as-you-go flip phones. However, it may also cause smartphones that are only a few years old to stop working.
“Essentially anything that was purchased before 2019 could be impacted by the 3G sunset … phones like an iPhone 6 or before, or a Samsung Galaxy S4 or before,” she said. “Those are definitely phones that likely will have some kind of disruption in service, so now is the time for people to contact their service providers and make sure that they are set up correctly.”
Clem said it may not just affect your elderly loved one’s ability to call 911 on the phone, but also other systems that help keep them connected with emergency services.
“Things like home alarms, vehicle SOS systems, personal emergency response systems, particularly for older adults — where you think of those things where, ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,'” she said.
About 3 million people around the nation rely on personal medical alert services, Clem said.
“There are several things that we just kind of take for granted, that they’re going to move along smoothly,” Clem said.
Even home assistants, such as Alexa, may be impacted if they are more than a couple of years old.
If you think one of your devices may be impacted, call your phone provider and see if you can do a software update, or if you will need to buy a new device.
Like finding an appointment for the COVID vaccine last year, this is a situation where younger family members may have to help elderly relatives who are less tech-savvy.
“This is a really important thing for older adults and for families who care and provide for them … If you have an older loved one who you think may be impacted, check in with them. Maybe offer to help them look for a new service,” Clem said.
She continued, “Knowing that this is something that’s coming down the pike, it’s really imperative that they start as soon as possible to ensure that they have connectivity and have some peace of mind with their devices going forward.”
Clem noted that for people on fixed incomes, being forced into buying one of the latest devices may create affordability issues. She encourages people with financial difficulties to reach out to programs for low-income households, such as Lifeline and the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program.
“We are so used to being connected 24-7, and having a moment where we don’t have that service at a time when it could be critical or life-threatening is terrifying,” Clem said. “So just having that peace of mind and assuring people that the best thing to do right now is to reach out to your service provider, find out whether your device is impacted, and then take steps to make sure that you’re safe going forward.”