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The 3G network shutdown and how it affects seniors

Golden Living

Adapting to new technology is a double-edged sword for seniors: While it opens vast new possibilities for seniors to stay connected, the speed of advances in technology may not quite register with seniors who came of age in an era of built-to-last products.

Nana’s got a cast iron skillet her own grandmother brought over from Italy. Dad’s still got the pair of boots he wore at Woodstock. Grandpa is still wearing the watch he wore in Korea. That iPhone 4S wasn’t cheap, it’s only 9 years old, it’s paid for and it’s only used to make calls. Why change?

The answer has to do with the nature of advances in the technology that uses wireless networks — not just phones, but older medical devices, tablets, home security systems and other connected products.

Newer, faster and more reliable technology can’t move forward unless older technology using the same wireless network space is phased out.

Older devices may need to be upgraded or replaced next year. That’s because the “3G” network on which older devices operate is being phased out during 2022, so providers can begin using faster and more advanced network services. 3G stands for “third generation,” and it’s being replaced with 5G, which is — you guessed it — the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) notes three key benefits to 5G networks:

• Much higher data rates, enabling consumers to download content more quickly;

• Much lower latency (delayed network response) — measured in milliseconds, imperceptible to humans; and

• Increased capacity as the network expands.

Still, anybody who’s driven through rural areas knows there are stubborn “dead zones” where consistent mobile coverage is all but impossible to come by.

On the other hand, it’s encouraging to know that 5G will be using some of the frequencies once used by over-the-air TV broadcasts. In theory, if your home picked up those TV broadcasts, 5G has a good chance of being available at your home as well.

What happens to my phone if I don’t upgrade?

As a rule, if your phone dates to 2012 or earlier, there’s a good chance it won’t be much use next year without being upgraded or replaced. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), many older phones will become unable to make or receive calls or texts, including 911 services.

Your provider will know if the end of 3G is going to be an issue for you and your device, and they may have discounts available for older customers. With continuing worldwide supply chain difficulties, what specific device replaces an old 3G device may be hard for providers to answer.

The rotary phone in your kitchen will still work just fine, although its mobility is limited by the length of the cord.


Golden Living is prepared by Dutchess County OFA Director Todd N. Tancredi, who can be reached at 845-486-2555, ofa@dutchessny.gov or via the OFA website at www.dutchessny.gov/aging.

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