From the end of June, the network operators Telekom, Vodafone and Telefónica / O2 will switch off the 3G network for good. In doing so, they want to create space for more modern cellular technologies with higher data throughputs. However, the 3G shutdown not only paves the way for a more rapid 5G expansion, it also brings disadvantages for some users. Not only mobile phone users are affected.
We have already examined the background of the 3G shutdown in an extensive article. In short, UMTS is to give way in favor of the further expansion of LTE and 5G. The 3G standard, which was introduced around the turn of the millennium and became commercially available for the first time in 2004, simply no longer allows the bandwidths required today. According to the network operator, only a few cell phone owners still use it. Vodafone stated, for example, that 3G only accounts for around 2.5 percent of mobile data traffic in the network.
In short, the end of UMTS has come and for most users the shutdown of the network should and will have positive effects in the long term. But as is so often the case, there are exceptions. Some users still rely heavily on the 3G network – and these are not just cell phone users.
3G shutdown makes older smartphones unusable
Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone want to separate from the 3G network at the end of June. O2 plans to shut it down by the end of the year. From this point on it is no longer possible to transmit via UMTS / 3G. All that remains to use the mobile Internet is 4G / LTE and the new 5G standard. In the future, phone calls will only be possible using the old GSM standard (2G) or LTE (Voice over LTE – VoLTE) or 5G (Voice over 5G – Vo5G).
But what if devices don’t support LTE or 5G at all? Some of them are still in circulation – whether as a drawer cell phone or as a replacement device. Above all, smartphones that were on the market by the end of 2011 usually only transmit via UMTS, but not LTE. Internet-enabled cell phones also mostly rely on the old standard. It is precisely these cell phones and smartphones that will be partially unusable by the end of 2021 at the latest. You can still make calls and text messages with them, but you can no longer dial into the mobile Internet. All they have left is WiFi.
There are still white spots
There are also those cell phone users who live in an area where LTE or 5G is not yet fully developed. This is often the case in more rural regions or in higher places such as the Harz Mountains or near the Alps. Those users who drive across the country from time to time will have already seen on their smartphone that the display has jumped from LTE to 3G because the LTE signal was apparently not strong enough. But if 3G is no longer available as an alternative technology, you will have a problem.
To be honest, it has to be said that mobile network expansion is generally difficult in many of these regions. For example, it is particularly difficult to guarantee coverage in mountainous areas because the height differences affect the signal. And so there is not even UMTS in some of the affected places. Those regions that have so far been able to at least rely on 3G will soon be looking into the tube.
Not only mobile phone users affected by 3G shutdown
Again and again we read in connection with the planned 3G shutdown of cell phone users who may be negatively affected. But there are also a number of devices that rely on UMTS but are not cell phones. For example IoT devices , which are used in medicine, the manufacturing industry and the military, but also in the emergency call systems of elevators. Also, alarm systems and other surveillance technology are affected by the 3G shutdown might. Many rely on UMTS to transfer data to the server or the cloud. If the providers switch off the network, the devices become unusable.
In the case of e-book readers with a cellular connection, there may also be effects. They often have a UMTS module installed, which users can use to load books or synchronize content while on the move. Amazon, for example, relied exclusively on 3G for its mobile-compatible Kindle e-readers until 2018. When the network is switched off, the module can no longer be used.
Last but not least, there are also some car manufacturers who rely on 3G for their systems and are therefore affected by the shutdown of the network. Just like some agricultural machines that are still connected via 3G for automation and networking. In the best case scenario, you still have 2G, which is hardly a replacement.
Buying a new one is often the best solution
Those users who have one of the devices mentioned have to adapt. From mid-2021 you will only have two alternatives: forego some of the functions of your old device, or to split up and buy a new model. In many cases, the latter is probably the more recommendable option, as many pure UMTS-capable devices are usually getting on in years. Depending on the type of device, this can be very expensive.