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Explainer: How the 3G shut-down will affect you

PLDT announced last month that they are planning to shut down their 3G network. This will happen sometime in 2023. PLDT claims only 4% of their subscribers are using 3G and that the market is ready for the “shut down”.

As the name implies, 3G is the third generation of mobile cellular technology. Introduced commercially in 2001, it came at a time when 1G network was being phased out. Two decades later, the time for 3G to go has arrived, and the Philippines would be among the countries to follow this trend. Arguably the first nation in Southeast Asia to roll out 5G technology in 2019, Filipino telecoms have thereafter announced ending 3G services. How will this play out?

Will things just stop working?

There is no single blanket answer to define the 3G shutdown, but what may help simplify the rationale behind phasing the technology out would be understanding how it works in the first place. Besides radio and television, various devices make use of radio frequencies. This would include mobile phones, e-book readers, payment systems, car navigation, home and business security, medical and health-related devices, and emergency systems. Basically every device that connects with each other through frequencies under 3G bands, which would usually extend up to 2100MHz (megahertz). For reference, these waves would be longer than the frequency range used by Bluetooth.

Then again, 4G and 5G networks also use the lower bandwidths utilized by previous mobile cellular systems. As a quick illustration, think of having a 5G-enabled device. Have you noticed how the signal drops below 5G levels depending on your location? Theoretically speaking, 2G and 3G networks are likely to be more reliable than 4G and 5G. As late as 2021, around 82 percent of 3G-only users in the Philippines possess 4G-enabled phones, but do not have 4G subscriptions. This in the midst of a nation having around 94 percent of its population being covered by 4G. However, despite the former offering better coverage and dependability, maintaining all these technologies would be costly. Eventually, the older ones would have to give way for innovation.

This would bring us to the tricky part of sunsetting technology. If you have newer devices with you, chances are daily living with them would go on without much of a hassle. The same could not be said for 3G-only gadgets, which would lose their connectivity features when the shutdown is implemented. Not only is 3G coverage more extensive in the Philippines than 4G and 5G, not everybody could afford to migrate their everyday devices to higher-end models.

Take for example vehicles. While people might be expected to change phones every 2 to 3 years, the average lifespan of cars in the Philippines would be 15 years. If network systems update around every decade, then nearly two generations of mobile technologies have already passed before a Filipino would be expected to change their car.

What you can do

While it may be unsettling for some to know existing technologies to sunset soon, all things would eventually come to an end. If they would not have to experience a complete loss of service, such as making calls and connecting to the internet, they would have to endure severe downgrades moving forward.

A future-proof solution may sound quite simple, but may also be expensive for an average citizen. That is, just get a newer device. It has been demonstrated how 4G and 5G systems provide more efficient and faster service, and it would only be a matter of time before they take over, much like how 3G once did in the previous years.

How would you know if your device is 3G-only? For mobile phones, it is usually indicated in the interface if your connection would be 3G. Otherwise, if one considers how the first 4G-enabled phone appeared in 2010, you could probably assume logically that phones older than that would more likely than not be operating with 3G or lower. For other devices also using 3G services, the distinction might not be as clear. In that case, contacting the manufacturers might help in planning how to work with the transition.

Another way that would perhaps be made available for consumers is having upgrades straight from the providers. Think of software modifications to help you keep updated to 4G or even 5G technology. This could be a less costly option, but of course, it depends on who offers such upgrading services at this moment.

Ultimately, heed the lessons from past technological progressions. Remember that the transition making 3G obsolete would still take time. Take advantage of the provided period to optimize how you can adapt and switch as the world shifts with the avant-garde.

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Avatar for Arius Lauren Raposas

A public servant with a heart for actively supporting technology and futures thinking, responding accordingly to humanity's needs and goals, increasing participation of people in issues concerning them, upholding rights and freedoms, and striving further to achieve more despite our limited capacities. In everything, to God be all the glory.

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