In the ever-changing world of technology, companies are constantly upgrading their products and their services. This inevitably means discontinuing products and services as well.
Earlier this month, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission announced all major mobile carriers, including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, have plans to phase out their 3G networks in 2022. This could impact more than just cell phone users, according to April Denholm, Lake County 9-1-1 communications director.
“This is going to affect older phones, but I’m not concerned about that,” Denholm said. She anticipates carriers will notify their users of changes as they occur.
Currently, according to the PUC, T-Mobile will shut down its 3G network by Jan. 1. AT&T plans to begin phasing out its 3G network in February. Verizon will offer 3G service through December.
“Keep in mind that many other carriers, like Cricket Wireless, Straight Talk and several Lifeline mobile service providers, utilize AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile networks for service, so their deadlines may impact your service even if your contract is with a different provider,” PUC Commissioner Kristie Fiegen said in the press release.
Denholm is primarily worried about two community groups who may not even know they will be impacted by this change. The first is those who use older, donated phones to call 9-1-1 in an emergency.
“We get those calls from time to time,” Denholm said.
These phones are non-initialized, which means they do not have a phone provider for making calls and are often older models. Any iPhone older than iPhone 6 and any android phone older than Samsung Galaxy S4 will no longer work.
Of greater concern are individuals who use a medical auto-dialer button or emergency phone dialer. Denholm said individuals who purchased one years ago may use 3G technology and be unaware of this.
“I don’t want somebody who relies on that button to have a bad fall, push that button and nothing happens,” she said.
She encourages people to learn more about the devices they are using. The company which was previously located in Madison, and may have provided many of the devices used in the area, has relocated to Brookings and undergone a name change.
The company is now called Independent Living Choices and can be reached at 605-692-5550.
Denholm said Maria King, state 9-1-1 coordinator, shared concerns about these things in a monthly Zoom meeting of 9-1-1 directors recently. She admits she doesn’t know how many people will be affected, but she hopes that by sharing the information with community members, she can prevent a tragedy.
“We have an awful lot of little devices that we don’t think about,” she said. “I don’t want to see anyone hurt and unable to get help.”
The PUC press release advises individuals to consider medical devices, tablets, smart watches, vehicle SOS services, home security systems and any other devices that use cellular connectivity as a back-up to a wired internet connection. “The best way to ensure you don’t lose connectivity as a result of these phase-outs is to do your research and plan ahead,” PUC Commissioner Gary Hanson is quoted as saying.
The PUC also recommends checking a guide from the Federal Communications Commission, “Plan Ahead for Phase Out of 3G Cellular Networks and Service,” which can be found at fcc.gov/telephone.