“For several years now we’ve publicly stated that our 3G CDMA network is being decommissioned, however our 3G network presently remains operational,” Verizon spokesperson Kevin King said in an emailed statement.
“Virtually all Verizon data traffic runs on our 4G LTE network, and as we actively work to decommission the 3G network we encourage customers still using 3G service to migrate to newer technology.”
The company declined to disclose how many customers still rely on its 3G network.
Verizon’s decision to delay its 3G shutdown probably has less to do with mobile phone customers still using the network — which are likely few in number — and more to do with “internet of things” devices, such as smart utility meters and home burglar alarms that are still connected to 3G and require more time and money to swap out, said Bill Menezes, director analyst at tech research firm Gartner.
Still, Menezes said, “to the extent that you might be a consumer that has an old prepaid phone that still relies on 3G, it’s probably a good idea to be aware that this is going to happen at some point and to start making plans to move to 4G. [Otherwise] it’s going to get harder and harder to make a voice call.”
In 2020, 3G users comprised just over 6.3% of total mobile connections in the United States, while 4G and 5G represented around 88% and 3%, respectively, according to network operator trade group GSMA Intelligence. In 2021, 3G is expected to shrink to 5.7% of total mobile connections, while 5G connections are expected to grow to around 14.5%. (This data includes mobile phone and data-only device connections, such as tablets, but excludes the kind of cellular IoT connections Menezes mentioned.)
Transitioning to new wireless technology
“Obviously the sooner they can move off of 3G and repurpose that spectrum for 5G, the happier they’ll be,” Menezes said.
In 2020, total spending on 3G wireless infrastructure in North America topped $435 million, compared to nearly $3.7 billion and $1.8 billion on 4G LTE and 5G infrastructure, respectively, according to December forecasts from Gartner. In 2021, Gartner estimates $246 million will be spent on 3G infrastructure, versus nearly $2.8 billion on 4G LTE and $3.3 billion on 5G.