Dear Savvy Senior: My 80-year-old father has an old flip phone he carries around with him for emergency purposes, but I’ve heard these devices will soon be phased out. Is this true? If so, how can we know if his phone will be affected, and where can I find him a simple new one that he can operate? — Searching Daughter
Dear Searching: Yes, it’s true. If your dad’s mobile phone is more than a few years old, he probably will need to upgrade it in the very near future.
This is because the major cellphone carriers — AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile — are shutting down their older 3G networks in 2022 to free up airwaves for 5G and other advanced services. So, if your dad is using an old 3G phone, like millions of other older Americans, he’ll need to get a new device to make calls, text or reach 911.
But you should also know that it’s not just older cellphones that will be obsolete. Older home security systems, medical devices and personal emergency response systems that still harness 3G will also be affected. Adding to the confusion, older 4G phones that don’t support modern cellular voice technologies, such as Voice Over LTE or HD Voice, are impacted too. Those customers may need a software upgrade or a new phone.
Here are the timelines for the 3G shutdowns: AT&T, February; T-Mobile, July 1; Verizon, Dec. 31; Sprint (owned by T-Mobile), March 31; and Sprint LTE, June 30. Other smaller carriers such as Tracfone, Cricket, Boost and Straight Talk will also be affected because they rely on airwaves from the three big companies.
Is your phone affected?
Cellphone carriers say they have been alerting customers who use older phones that services are ending, sending a combination of texts, letters, phone calls and emails. If you’re not sure about your dad’s phone, contact his carrier or check its website for a list of affected devices.
Another way to find out if your dad’s phone is 3G is to look up his international mobile equipment identity number, which can be found by pressing *#06# on his keypad. Once you have it, go to www.imei.info and type it in the search bar to get the phone’s details. If his phone has a frequency of 900 megahertz or 2100 MHz, it’s 3G. You can also look for a “3G” icon at the top corner of his phone, but not all 3G phones have that icon.
How to upgrade
If you find that you do need to upgrade your dad’s cellphone, carriers are offering discounts and special promotions on replacement devices. If you’re worried about your dad having to learn his way around a new device, you’ll be happy to know that there are plenty of modern flip phones available that work on the next-generation networks.
Or, if your dad decides that he would rather forge ahead without a phone than upgrade, he will need to cancel the service. Most carriers will let you cancel your plan without any penalty. However, if he forgets to cancel his phone plan and doesn’t upgrade to a working device, the company won’t automatically stop charging him just because he isn’t able to access their network.
How to recycle
If your dad does have to replace his old cellphone, the best way to dispose of it is to recycle it. Large retailers, such as Best Buy, offer recycling programs for old electronics. Or you can search for local recycling programs on websites like Call2Recycle.org and Earth911.com.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.