As the mobile industry races toward deploying 5G networks, legacy infrastructure is being shut down in order to free up spectrum allocations, as well as reduce operating costs for mobile network operators. In a similar fashion to the digital switchover for terrestrial broadcast television, 2G and 3G mobile networks are being dismantled in order to digitally "make room" for 5G and transitional LTE networks.
Naturally, these wind-downs are orchestrated in stages. According to a report from Droid Life, Verizon has stopped activating 3G-only phones on their network as of this month. In a statement to that publication, a Verizon representative noted:
For several years we've been been publicly saying that our 3G CDMA network will remain available through the end of 2019. Virtually all traffic on our network is on our 4G LTE network.
To facilitate a smooth transition to 4G LTE capable products and services, we are no longer allowing devices that are not 4G LTE capable to be activated on our network.
Because the design of CDMA does not rely on SIM cards—as well as a combination of CDMA phones being essentially carrier-specific, and Verizon's reputation for limiting what devices are allowed on its network—this change has rendered hundreds of devices unable to be used for their primary function. This would be less of a problem if Verizon announced, publicly, at all, that this change was coming. As it is, this decision was effectively sprung on Verizon customers without prior notice.
SEE: Network security policy (Tech Pro Research)
As a result, hundreds of devices that appear to function, but are unable to be activated, are still being sold on marketplaces such as eBay, with potential buyers unaware that Verizon will not allow a technically functioning device to be activated to a legacy network. Likewise, people with spare phones kept in the event that their daily driver device is damaged may find that they have a working phone that cannot be used.
Likewise, many companies issue phones to employees. Depending on industry, smartphone functions may be unnecessary. In an effort to save on the cost of expensive data plans, companies (still, in 2018) issue feature phones. For a variety of reasons—not the least of which is the lack of new features which come to so-called "feature phones"—these are generally expected to have a lifespan longer than the standard two-year contract associated with mobile network providers. Starting now, the only serviceable replacement appears to be the LG Exalt, which our sister site CNET notes is the first LTE flip phone on Verizon.
Additionally, users still hanging on to legacy smartphones, such as BlackBerry 6 or 7-powered devices, Palm (or HP) webOS phones, including the Pre and Pixi, and Windows Phone will be affected by these changes.
Droid Life also pointed to a forum post they refer to as a "leak" indicating that similar restrictions are coming requiring phones to be VoLTE and HD Voice capable to be allowed on the network. This restriction has not as of yet been implemented.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Like the digital switchover for terrestrial broadcast television, 2G and 3G mobile networks are being dismantled in order to digitally "make room" for 5G and LTE networks.
- This month, Verizon stopped allowing activation of 3G devices. Their 3G network is scheduled to be deactivated at the end of 2019.
- Special report: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Half of connections in North America will be on 5G by 2025, GSMA says (ZDNet)
- 5G mobile networks: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- 5G mobile: Arriving not with a bang, but a whisper (ZDNet)
- Verizon customers may be getting 'full-scale commercial' 5G by the end of 2019 (TechRepublic)
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.