With the coming of 5G, and following on the recent news of AT&T's announced shutdown of its 3G network, Sprint quietly let customers with legacy devices know that it will cease activating 3G-only devices beginning April 30th, 2019.
Although activations of older devices will end on April 30th (The full list of impacted devices), those with already activated 3G devices will be able to continue using them until Sprint's 3G network is shut down completely sometime in the future. However, the change will prevent the following actions for existing Sprint customers using these older devices:
- No Phone number changes - customers won't be able to swap phone numbers on a legacy device.
- No more Preferred Roaming List (PRL) updates. The PRL is a database on your device that tells it what cell towers it can use - carriers automatically send devices updates as the network changes. Legacy devices will no longer be able to receive them after April 30th. Without updates, the device will have issues connecting in areas with changed cell coverage.
Although Sprint has not yet published the date for the formal shutdown of its 3G network (and for transitioning and refarming its 3G spectrum for 5G), the end of 3G device activations is the first sign of the inevitable. It's likely that Sprint will delay any formal shutdown announcement until after its planned merger with T-Mobile is adjudicated by federal regulators.
Like similar moves from AT&T and Verizon, this change is not surprising at all as the 3G spectrum currently in use will be needed to build a Sprint (or Sprint/T-Mobile) 5G network. And if the T-Mobile merger goes through, the combined company already has plans to aggressively use that spectrum to roll-out 5G coverage.
Spectrum is a limited resource and no cell carrier can support old technologies and devices indefinitely. Verizon is the most aggressive in closing its 3G network, which is scheduled to shut down at the end of 2019.
The best advice for users of legacy 3G devices is to look at upgrading - Even with 5G around the corner, 4G/LTE will be around for a long time to come with a lot of benefits over 3G.