If you were one of the thousands of AT&T customers who received an email alert that your phone would no longer work on its network because it was phasing out 3G, so you should buy a new phone now, you were understandably alarmed. You may have even thought the communication was a scam designed to look as though it came from AT&T. In fact, it was a legitimate email, but AT&T neglected to include timing for its 3G phase-out. The carrier’s 3G network won’t be deactivated until sometime in 2022.
My mother received this email and has already made plans to buy a new iPhone next week, fearing her phone could lose service at any time. AT&T has confirmed the 2022 date and issued an apology. For any of you who missed it, here is the official statement: “This email was one of many planned to keep customers informed about the shutdown of our 3G network in early 2022. It should have included the date that certain devices would no longer be supported. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused and will be more clear in future updates.”
AT&T is phasing out its 3G network to move resources to the new, faster 5G service. It will consolidate its network around 4G and 5G, so phones that operate on 4G should still work fine even when 3G is gone. So which phones will lose support? Any iPhone before the iPhone 6 released in 2014 will not work once AT&T shuts down 3G. The same is true for Verizon, which began refusing to activate 3G-only phones last month for the same reason.
Like with any technology platform shift, a user will be able to take advantage of the benefits of a new technology only if their device is compatible. Currently, the only phones that can operate on a 5G network are Android-based. Samsung has its S20 at $1,000 and is due to unveil its Galaxy Z Flip 5G, a foldable clamshell phone that will cost $1,450 and will be sold through AT&T from Aug. 7.
Currently, Apple does not offer a 5G-capable iPhone, but its next-generation unit, the iPhone 12 series, will include 5G wireless technology. The release of these phones was expected this September but have likely been delayed to November because of supply chain issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Should you pick up a 5G iPhone 12 when it becomes available or any 5G phone today? For the budget conscious, the answer is no, and here’s why. First of all, 5G coverage is spotty at best. Verizon shows coverage in only a handful of cities across the country. In Utah, 5G is available only in downtown Salt Lake City around the convention center and the Vivint arena, and at the University of Utah. If you spring for a pricey 5G phone this year, you will be paying $1,000 or more for a phone that can’t take advantage of 5G because for the most part we don’t have it yet. In the case of the iPhone and the S20, if you wait a year (still before the time of 3G extinction) these phones will be reduced in price to make way for the 2021 models.
On the other hand, you should not buy a new 4G phone because it will never be able to take advantage of 5G speeds. Hold on to your phone for another year or so if possible. If it breaks and you need to buy a new one, I recommend Apple’s iPhone SE that was released in June.
The SE name is a bit confusing because there is no number associated with it, but it is a 2020 phone. The original iPhone SE was a budget 4-inch iPhone launched in 2016 and then discontinued in 2018. Apple revived the name in April 2020 with a new 4.7-inch model that looks like an iPhone 8 but is equipped like an iPhone 11. This makes it a great choice for an interim phone.
The easiest way to buy an iPhone is online through Apple because you will not be distracted by a multitude of other choices, plans and promotions on a carrier website. And of course, you avoid the risks of shopping in a public place. There is no difference in price and you can choose your preferred carrier. There are three models available that differ in their storage capacity. The lowest-priced SE, which has 64GB storage, is $399 to buy outright or $16.62 per month for two years with no interest.