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T-Mobile to sunset Sprint CDMA network in 2022

Customers with older non-VoLTE phones and devices will need to upgrade.

Customers with older non-VoLTE phones and devices will need to upgrade.

T-Mobile is letting some long-time Sprint customers know that they may have to upgrade their phones or other devices soon.

In letters sent to business customers and obtained by The Desk, T-Mobile says it expects to turn off Sprint’s legacy 2G and 3G network at the end of 2021. Though the letters were sent specifically to Sprint’s business line customers, the change is expected to affect Sprint’s regular customers as well.

Sprint’s older network uses a technology called CDMA, which is also used by rival Verizon, to transmit data and some voice signals to customers. That’s different from the technology used by T-Mobile and rival AT&T called GSM, which is the international standard for the same features.

CDMA is being phased out in favor of 4G LTE and 5G signals, which are faster and can support more features compared to the older technology. Verizon stopped activating CDMA-only phones in 2018 for post-paid customers and 2019 for pre-paid customers.

Sprint, which was acquired by T-Mobile earlier this year, will stop allowing prospective customers to sign up for service if they intend to bring older 2G or 3G devices that don’t also support the voice over LTE, or “VoLTE,” standard. This impacts both phones and data-only devices like tablets and hotspots that don’t support the LTE standard.

After January 1, 2022, current Sprint customers who hold on to thir older devices won’t be able to access the CDMA network at all. And throughout 2021, those CDMA-only device users might experience a degradation in service, T-Mobile said.

“Between now and the time that the Sprint CDMA Network is fully decommissioned, capacity and coverage of the Sprint CDMA network is expected to change,” a letter to its business customers said. T-Mobile began sending the warning letters in early November.

Customers who have an older device that supports VoLTE will still be able to use their devices through January 2022, though they won’t be able to connect to Sprint’s older data network in areas where LTE service is unavailable.

Current T-Mobile customers will be affected by a similar change next month: Those with phones that use T-Mobile’s older 3G network will lose service until they upgrade their devices to ones that support VoLTE.

All phones sold through T-Mobile’s online and retail stores — including those that converted from the Sprint brand in August — are compatible with VoLTE, and T-Mobile’s associates will begin pushing legacy Sprint customers with older, CDMA-only devices to upgrade.

Unlocked VoLTE-Capable Phones

For Sprint customers who are using older CDMA-only phones, upgrading to a VoLTE-capable phone doesn’t have to be an expensive chore. Both Amazon and Best Buy sell several VoLTE-capable phones that work with Sprint and T-Mobile service for $200 or less:

  • Nokia 5.3: Features a 6.5-inch full HD display, 64GB of on-board storage, the ability to expand storage with a micro SD card and the latest Android 10 operating system. Just pop in a SIM card and you’re ready to go. Available in blue or black. Great phone for parents or kids. (Amazon: $200 or Best Buy: $200)
  • Motorola Moto G Power: While other phones last a full day at most, the battery in the Moto G Power packs enough juice to get through an average of three days. The triple-camera layout on the back is a nice touch, and it ships with all the features you’d expect from a modern smartphone. Great for businesses.  (Amazon: $240 or Best Buy: $180) Note: This phone frequently goes on sale.
  • Motorola Moto G Fast: A great budget phone that doesn’t skimp on the features. Great for seniors. (Amazon: $150 or Best Buy: $130)

T-Mobile also sells a line of 4G LTE and 5G hotspot devices for connecting to tablets, computers and other gear on the combine T-Mobile/Sprint network.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.