As 3G dies, old phones aren’t the only victims

When millions of obsolete mobile phones stop working next year, they’ll have plenty of company.

In 2022, the nation’s wireless carriers will shut down their 3G data networks to make room for better 4G and 5G services. The transition will affect not only phones, but also countless other devices that rely on 3G data links — home security systems, medical alert devices for senior citizens, the driver assistance systems inside many cars, and even the ankle bracelets used by law enforcement agencies to keep track of parolees.

Ben Coleman, a school teacher in Fall River, has already paid a high price for the impending death of 3G service. About a year ago, Coleman received an e-mail from BMW about his 2014 i3 electric car. The message warned that “the 3G was going to stop working and that they were not going to replace the module,” Coleman said.

“The i3 had limited range, so the only way I could make it to work in the winter is if I pre-heated the battery,” Coleman said. “The only way to schedule that is via a 3G cellular connection.” Without an Internet connection, the car would be useless to him. So in May, Coleman sold his fully paid-for i3 and now makes monthly payments on a new Chevrolet Bolt.

At least Coleman knew he had a problem. But many consumers are unaware that their gadgets could stop working sometime next year — in some cases, as soon as February 22. That’s when AT&T, a major provider of network services for devices other than phones, plans to switch off its 3G system once and for all.

“There will be hundreds of thousands of seniors and millions of homes and businesses without security and fire protection, period, on February 23rd,” said Daniel Oppenheim, president of the Medical Alert Monitoring Association.

Oppenheim’s trade group, as well as a consortium of home security system makers and an organization of major automakers have all asked the Federal Communications Commission to delay AT&T’s 3G shutdown until December 31, 2022, the same date when Verizon will switch off its 3G service. They say this will give their industries enough time to complete the transition to 4G devices.

The nation’s third major wireless company, T-Mobile, has a much…