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AT&T: 2.7% of customers will be affected by 3G shutdown

AT&T has been warning customers for years that it plans to shut down its 3G network in February 2022. And in a recent regulatory filing, the company disclosed exactly how many customers could be affected by the move.

"Approximately 2.7% of AT&T's postpaid and prepaid consumer subscribers still rely on 3G-dependent devices," the operator told the FCC. In its most recent quarterly SEC filing, AT&T counted a total of 192 million customers on its mobile network, including almost 80 million postpaid customers and 18.7 million prepaid customers. Thus, AT&T could count roughly 2.7 million customers on the 3G network it plans to shutter early next year.

AT&T has experience in this area. The operator discontinued service on its 2G network in 2017. According to AT&T's filings with the SEC around that time, it counted 4 million customers on its 2G network, the bulk of which were IoT devices.

The disclosure of the number of its current 3G customers was part of AT&T's effort to convince the regulatory agency not to intervene in its 3G network shutdown plans. Groups ranging from the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to the Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS) have been arguing of the "deadly" effects that AT&T's shutdown plans could have on customers who still rely on its 3G network and who have been unable to upgrade to 4G.

"Over 100,000 school buses and countless other vehicles in critical fields – including those of first responders, over-the-road freight carriers, and utility and construction vehicles – still rely on 3G services for safety, compliance with federal mandates, and logistics management," argued Zonar, a fleet management company that works with public schools, commercial trucking and other industries, in comments to the FCC. "Simply put, the global semiconductor shortage coupled with COVID-19 impacts to the industry have made it unfeasible to upgrade all the 3G telematics units still in operation today prior to the current decommission date."

Zonar urged the FCC to impose a "modest delay" on AT&T's shutdown plans.

AT&T offered a staunch defense of its plans to shutter its 3G network. The company argued that its 3G customers – including those represented by the likes of AICC and AARP – have had years to prepare for the company's 3G shutdown. AT&T explained that it wants to re-allocate the 850MHz spectrum it's using for 3G for its C-band 5G network. And if it can't do so, "the result would be more blocked and dropped calls and a decrease in data throughput," AT&T said.

AT&T isn't the only company facing heat over its 3G shutdown plans. Regulators at the US Department of Justice and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) are probing T-Mobile's own plans to shutter its 3G CDMA network early next year.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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