Telecom carriers to phase out 3G networks, jeopardizing connectivity in rural areas

communication tower or 3G 4G network telephone cellsite with dusk sky Photo by Quality Stock Arts/Shutterstock

Telecom giants in the United States shut down 3G networks in 2022. The same is not true for Canada. 

The country’s largest carriers have decided to support 3G until at least 2025. But with a looming deadline, Canadians still on a 3G network might want to think about alternate options. This is especially true for those residing in rural areas as it’s more likely they will be on 3G networks.

While major carriers currently support 3G, 4G, and 5G access, the race to put out new technologies has led to coverage gaps, telecom expert Ben Klass said. 

“We like to play with shiny new things. With 5G and even 6G being on the rise, it doesn’t provide much to look forward to for people who currently are in areas of poor coverage,” Klass said. “The types of people who are going to be impacted by this phase-out are probably the types of people who don’t really know that it’s coming.”

3G stands for the third generation of network technology that was first launched in Japan in 2001. It came to Canada a couple of years later. 3G was a milestone, allowing people to use smartphones in a way they couldn’t before. Sending emails, browsing the internet, and streaming music over mobile devices all became a possibility. 

But with an end date on the horizon, Canadians can be impacted in two ways: either they only have a device that uses 3G technology, or their coverage area doesn’t include 4G or LTE coverage. In either case, they’ll be cut off from communicating through their wireless devices. 

If the former applies, users won’t be able to access voice, messaging, or emergency services. While the device will still be able to connect to Wi-Fi, it will lose all cellular capabilities.

Devices from several popular brands are included, including Apple’s iPhone 4S and 5S. Anyone still miraculously holding onto an original iPhone or iPhone 3G will also need to replace their device as they don’t have the software to be used on a network higher than 3G. Users can also search for their device’s name and model number online to find a definitive answer.

Samsung users with a device that has a removable back plate will find device information there. Devices running on Android’s operating system also have this information in Settings. Depending on the version of your operating system, it could be under “About phone” or “About device.”

iPhone users should be able to find what type of model they have by going to Settings> General> About. Anyone with an iPhone 7 or older can also find the model number on the back cover, which can be searched online to pinpoint the model name. 

However, there are several devices that can work on more than one network. “Your modern handsets, like the Apple devices and Android devices, have the capability to operate on multiple different networks,” Klass said.

Keeping with Apple, the iPhone 6 is a device that can support 3G and 4G networks, given connectivity is available. 

But mobile devices aren’t the only thing that will be impacted by the end of 3G. The Internet of Things (IoT)—when machines communicate with each other through cellular networks—also plays a role here. This includes features in vehicles that use the internet, such as GPS systems. Home security systems and smart metres may also be affected. 

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