In 2022, America’s cell phone network providers plan to shut down the networks that drove those old phones. Since few still use them, that won’t inconvenience many phone users. But a lot of cars still use them. They may be losing some features.
What Is 3G?
Cell phones, tablets, and other connected devices communicate across parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. That spectrum has a limited number of frequencies, and there is no way to add more.
3G means “third generation.” The third generation of cell phone technology communicates across a certain part of the RF spectrum. Newer, fourth-generation (4G), and fifth-generation (5G) phones use a different part of the spectrum.
Cell phone service providers maintain nationwide networks of towers that broadcast in each of those frequencies. Since few customers are still using the older 3G network, the major providers plan to shut those networks down in 2022.
They’ll reuse the same parts of the spectrum to support 5G and even 6G devices. But 3G devices will stop working.
Your Car May Be a 3G Device
Modern cars have many features that require the car to communicate with a server somewhere. Many cars do that with a 3G connection. Connected services include things like:
- Remote locking and unlocking
- GPS navigation
- Traffic updates
- Smartphone connectivity
- Teen driver restrictions
Some cars use 4G or 5G networks to drive those services. They will not be affected by the shutdown.
When It’s Happening
There are three major 3G networks in the U.S. Each will sunset in 2022.
- AT&T will shut down its network in February
- T-Mobile, which recently merged with Sprint, will shut down Sprint’s network in March and its own network in July
- Verizon will shut down its network in December
You probably know which network provides service to your phone. But it can be difficult to learn what network your car uses.
What are Automakers Doing About It?
Some automakers have formulated plans to keep their connected services operating by upgrading cars to 4G or 5G connections. Others may decide to allow the features to sunset.
General Motors, for instance, has already begun sending out over-the-air software updates to OnStar-equipped vehicles, which should keep most vehicles connected. The automaker has launched a 3G shutdown website with more details.
Subaru, which has its own shutdown-related website, says dealers will need to install a physical upgrade to enable its STARLINK system to continue operating. They’ll perform the work for free.
Some automakers may provide upgrades at a cost. Most Teslas currently on the road are already equipped with more modern systems. But some Model S cars built before 2015 still use a 3G connection. Tesla will upgrade those cars with a new modem but charges $200 for the service.
What Can You Do?
The best way to know whether your car will lose services is to ask a dealership. The Drive also maintains a list of cars they’re sure are affected.
This is an evolving story.
As the shutdown dates approach, more automakers will likely roll out their own solutions to keep older cars connected. Automakers and car dealers make money from these services, so they’d like to keep them running.