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AT&T just scared its customers with a message telling them their phones won’t work soon

Updated Jul 23rd, 2020 7:56AM EDT
AT&T 3G Shutdown
Image: AP Photo/Steven Senne, File
  • AT&T plans to shut down its 3G network in February 2022, at which point some of the current phones will not be able to make ore receive phone calls.
  • But the carrier started sending email notifications to subscribers about the change, telling them they’ll need to upgrade their devices to continue using the service.
  • However, the email didn’t specify the 3G network shutdown date, making it seem like the upgrade is imminent. Also, the email may have reached customers who own devices that would not be affected by the network upgrade.

The novel coronavirus pandemic ended normal life, and it’ll be a while until the world gets back to that sense of normalcy. COVID-19 didn’t just impact people’s health, but also their livelihood. Countries went into lockdowns, which meant millions of people lost their jobs. Millions of people are still out of work even as states and countries recover. Enough stress and uncertainty are going around that the last thing you need is your carrier telling you that you need to upgrade your phone because it won’t work anymore on its network, which is supposed to be updated soon. That’s what AT&T did, telling some of its customers that they have to get a new device to ensure it still works.

The message is incredibly misleading and scary at this time. Many people rely on their phones for all sorts of daily activities, and that includes staying in touch with loved ones during the pandemic. And many people can’t afford a new device right now. But AT&T would still like you to know that your device won’t be compatible with its network. What the notifications sent to all sorts of phones doesn’t say is that the upgrade that’s coming soon is scheduled for FEBRUARY 2022.

It’s Android Police that first reported the matter, posting screenshots from AT&T customers who received the message. As you can see below, the wording of the email makes it sound like the network upgrade may be imminent. If that were the case, then you’d absolutely need to know about the upcoming changes.

AT&T 3G Network Shutdown Warning
Screenshots show AT&T’s 3G shutdown warning that subscribers received in mid-July 2020. Image source: Android Police

There is a Learn More button that would let you access more information, once you deal with the initial panic attack. Some AT&T subscribers even wondered whether the email is a scam on AT&T’s forums.

AT&T does indeed plan to make a massive change to its network. It’ll stop the 3G network in 2022, which means that some phones will no longer be able to make voice calls. That could be a serious issue, but it’s not happening anytime soon.

As Android Police points out, many of the new phones support 4G data and calling, which is called HD Voice under AT&T. But not all of the phones that have the hardware to support it are whitelisted. What’s puzzling is that a PDF on AT&T’s website that includes all the phones that are compatible with HD Voice list last year’s Galaxy S10e. That makes sense, and the S10e is still a great device to use. But an S10e owner also received the message when they shouldn’t have.

AT&T has provided a comment on the matter, explaining the release of the email, and acknowledging the massive issue with it.

This email was one of many planned to keep customers informed about the shutdown of our 3G network in early 2022. It should have included the date that certain devices would no longer be supported. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused and will be more clear in future updates.

AT&T also said that only users who “have a device that does not support HD Voice on our network or that requires 3G should have received the notice,” when asked why subscribers with HD Voice compatible phones received the same memo.

In other words, you can go ahead and check whether your phone can handle the change in 2022, and then ignore similar notifications regardless of your phone requires 3G or not. There’s plenty of time to upgrade your hardware until February 2022, and now’s absolutely not the time to do it.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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