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3G Sunset Has Security Implications

As more wireless carriers build out their 5G infrastructure, third generation wireless devices will become obsolete. In fact, by the end of 2022, all major wireless carriers will have fully phased out their 3G service. AT&T has done so already. This “3G sunset”

means that devices relying on the carrier's 3G network will no longer be able to communicate; there will be no text or voice service. Although this shutdown has been planned for years, industry groups have had trouble replacing 3G-dependent devices given the pandemic and related supply-chain issues.

The "sunset" brings about several security implications that may not be front-of-mind. To mitigate any potential vulnerabilities, we advise developing a transition plan for any devices relying solely on 3G service, including:

  • Decommissioned cell phones: Insite frequently recommends storing decommissioned cell phones within rooms identified as Areas of Retreat. 3G devices will no longer be able to connect with 911. Ensure you upgrade to mobile phones with 4G or 5G connection, so they are operable before an emergency arises. Generally, smartphones launched after 2014 and flip phone models from 2017 or later will be supported. Some carrier websites may provide a list of devices that will no longer be connected after the shutdown.

  • Alarm systems: Some older burglar or fire alarm systems may rely on a 3G network, meaning that they will be unable to communicate with central stations in the event of an emergency after the "sunset." Alarm keypads may also show a communication error once 3G is phased out. Reach out to your alarm system provider to make sure they have upgraded your communicator.

  • Car notification systems: Vehicles equipped to automatically contact emergency responders after a collision may rely on a 3G connection. Explore whether a software upgrade can remedy this issue or whether this feature will be lost with the service.

  • Medical alert devices: Many medical alert devices relied on AT&T’s 3G service, meaning they may have lost connection at the end of February. Ensure relatives and loved ones have received upgraded devices.

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