The Desk appreciates the support of readers who purchase products or services through links on our website. Learn more...

AT&T stokes confusion with text message about 3G network sunset

The second-largest wireless carrier told some customers their phones won't work — even though they might.

The second-largest wireless carrier told some customers their phones won't work — even though they might.

(Image: AT&T/Graphic: The Desk)

AT&T confused customers this week after sending email and text messages that, at first glance, resembled a scam.

The texts and emails warned customers that their phones would likely stop working because of an upcoming network change.

The messages were real, but missing from AT&T’s text campaign was an explanation that the company would pull the plug on its older 3G network in two years, and that most smartphones purchased within the last few years would continue to work as normal.

AT&T‘s email messages contained links to a website that explained the network changes and offered insight into which phones would no longer be supported.

For years, AT&T has planned to shut off its 3G voice and data network and move phone customers over to its LTE network for voice calls. That service, known as VoLTE and marketed by AT&T as HDVoice, is already accessible to most Apple and Android phone users who have purchased a new phone within the last five years.

After the change happens — which won’t take place until February 2022 at the earliest — customers of older “flip” or “candybar” style phones won’t be able to access AT&T’s voice, text or data services. Customers who hold on to smartphones sold before 2015 also won’t be able to make calls or send emails on AT&T’s network until they upgrade.

Most of those details were left out of AT&T’s text message to customers on Tuesday, and few of them were present in the company’s email campaign to wireless subscribers. Instead, the company sent a notice saying the customer’s phone “is not compatible with the new network and you need to replace it to continue receiving service.”

According to the website Android Police, the emails and text messages went out to some customers who devices did support the company’s LTE network. The website said some customers who have an LTE-capable device may have received the message because of AT&T’s selective choosing in which phone models it allows to access VoLTE on its network. Those phones, Android Police said, are typically limited only to models that AT&T sells itself, even if other models purchased by customers elsewhere are fully compatible with AT&T’s LTE network.

After Android Police wrote about the campaign, an AT&T spokesperson apologized for the confusion.

“This email was one of many planned to keep customers informed about the shutdown of our 3G network in early 2022,” the spokesperson said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “It should have included the date that certain devices would no longer be supported. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused and will be more clear in future updates.”

The Chronicle said AT&T’s statement didn’t address concerns that customers with LTE-capable phones received the notice.

(Disclosure: As of this writing, the author of this story owned stock in AT&T)

Photo of author

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).