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AT&T begins sending some customers free phones

The move comes as AT&T prepares to shut off its older 3G wireless network.

The move comes as AT&T prepares to shut off its older 3G wireless network.

Some AT&T customers went to their mailboxes last week to discover a surprise from the phone company: A free smartphone.

The upgrade was offered to a handful of AT&T customers who are still using devices on the wireless company’s older, 3G wireless network — one that is expected to be shut down by the end of this year.

In June, AT&T said it would offer free smartphones to customers who were still relying on the old network and whose current devices were not compatible with the company’s newer 4G/LTE and 5G networks.

At the time, AT&T said the free upgrade would be in the form of a new AT&T Radiant Core, an $80 smartphone that is capable of making voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) calls on the company’s network.

But some customers last week reported receiving better devices than the basic smartphone that was once promised: In online forums, AT&T postpaid customers said packages delivered by AT&T contained Samsung Galaxy phones that typically fetch a higher price than the Radiant Core.

Those devices include the Samsung Galaxy S9, the Galaxy Note 9, the Galaxy Note 10 and the Galaxy A11.

A spokesperson for AT&T confirmed some customers would receive newer and nicer devices than the AT&T Radiant Core due to supply constraints, suggesting a large number of the company’s wireless customers are still relying on non-compatible devices.

“We have not changed our plans to replace 3G network-dependent devices,” the spokesperson said. “However, inventory constraints mean we sometimes must find substitutes for some devices.”

AT&T says customers who receive new devices must activate them on their current AT&T plan within 30 days of receiving them, and that their older devices will stop working once the new one is activated.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).