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Some Amazon Kindles to be impacted by 3G shutoff

The cellular versions of the popular e-reader devices will require a Wi-Fi connection to download books and documents in a few years.

The cellular versions of the popular e-reader devices will require a Wi-Fi connection to download books and documents in a few years.

(Photo courtesy Amazon, Graphic by The Desk)

Millions of users of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader device will soon find themselves unable to take advantage of a pretty big feature that is found on some of the more expensive versions of the gadget.

Since 2010, Amazon has offered for sale a variant of its Kindle e-reader that is able to connect to AT&T’s third-generation (3G) wireless network. By using AT&T’s network, customers are able to download books and documents without needing to first connect to a Wi-Fi network, making it convenient for travelers and commuters to download books on the go.

But starting next year, millions of those devices on the market will no longer be able to utilize this feature, thanks in large part to AT&T’s decision to shut off its 3G network in favor of its more-robust 4G LTE and next-generation 5G networks.

The issue was first reported on Tuesday by Michael Kozlowski, the editor-in-chief of the website Good E-Reader, who noted that Amazon had for years limited the cellular versions of its Kindle devices to AT&T’s 3G network. Starting in 2017, the company began offering Kindle devices capable of connecting to AT&T’s 4G LTE network, but Kozlowski speculates there are still millions of Kindle devices in use that will soon only work with Wi-Fi networks despite customers paying more for cellular connectivity.

“This whole situation is a serious blow to anyone who spent the extra money to buy digital content while on the go,” Kozlowski wrote. “Some Kindle models cost over $150 extra for a cellular internet connection. Luckily, almost every Kindle ever made has wireless internet access, so users will be able to access the Amazon bookstore with Wi-Fi.”

The good news is that Wi-Fi feature will still allow older Kindle users to connect to a cellular network if a customer has a smartphone with a hotspot feature, assuming their phone plan allows it. If not, they’ll have to upgrade their phone, their plan or buy a separate hotspot device, which could be an inconvenience for budget-conscious readers who paid a bit more, so their Kindles can once again download books on the go.

There’s also the expense involved in any of those options: One big draw for the more-expensive Kindles was that customers didn’t need to pay for a separate data plan through AT&T — Amazon covered the expense of downloading books from its store and browsing the web through its Silk browser. Users were only charged if they sent documents to their devices over 3G.

Users who don’t have hotspot data included in their phone plans would need to upgrade if they wanted to connect their smartphones to their Kindles while on the go. Some budget and prepaid options don’t offer hotspot connectivity at all; those customers would have to upgrade their phone plan or buy a separate hotspot device, which comes with separate charges.

Despite the planned shutdown of AT&T’s 3G network, Amazon is still selling 3G-capable devices, including a variant of its popular Kindle Paperwhite, which retails on the website for $50. Amazon’s discount seller, Woot, has also offered cellular versions of the Kindle device for sale, without any mention that the devices will stop working with AT&T’s 3G network by next year.

Luckily, Amazon has a Kindle trade-in program for those who have held on to older devices. As of this writing, both the original Kindle Keyboard with 3G and the original Kindle Paperwhite with 3G can be traded in for a $5 Amazon gift card, which can then be used on anything in the Amazon store, including a new Kindle device.

Those who are looking to upgrade their devices may want to wait about two more weeks: Amazon’s Prime Day starts June 21, and the tech company often discounts the price of its own products, including Kindle hardware.

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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).