With 3G service ending, detailed explanations must be made to users

From the end of this month, major mobile phone service companies will begin plans to phase out the 3G communications service that is mainly used in older cell phones. Each company needs to carefully explain the situation so that users will not be inconvenienced.

KDDI Corp.’s au mobile phone network will discontinue 3G at the end of March. Telephone calls and emails will no longer be possible on phones with 3G subscriptions from April. SoftBank Corp. said it will stop its 3G service in late January 2024 and NTT Docomo, Inc. at the end of March 2026.

The phaseout is because 4G, which has much faster data transmission speeds, has become the mainstream mobile communications standard. The companies are also hurrying to develop infrastructure for 5G, a communications standard with even higher speeds and data capacities. If the old communications networks were maintained, labor and costs would be a significant burden on the companies.

It is understandable that 3G is being phased out to make more efficient use of the limited spectrum.

The term 3G refers to the third-generation communications standard. Docomo launched the world’s first 3G service in 2001 under the name “FOMA.”

Cell phones compatible with 3G evolved uniquely in Japan, including functions such as TV viewing and infrared transmission, and foldable handsets were popular. Now, these are dubbed “Galapagos mobile phones.”

Smartphones have spread rapidly in recent years, but as of the end of September last year, the number of 3G subscriptions was said to be approximately 22 million, comprising mainly elderly users. The figure represents more than 10% of the total number of cell phones in use in Japan.

A situation in which these people suddenly lose the ability to make calls and send emails must be avoided.

Each company should notify users and provide detailed information on when they should replace their phones by expanding consultation services at sales outlets and via telephone.

Cell phone companies tend to encourage users to switch to smartphones, which can provide a variety of internet services and lead to increased data traffic revenue. But many people, including some senior citizens, might prefer to purchase older models that they are familiar with rather than smartphones.

The three major mobile phone companies also sell flip phones with push buttons that are 4G compatible. The number of such units sold in 2021 was approximately 2.8 million, a 17% increase over the previous year.

With the end of its 3G service approaching, au is allowing 3G users to exchange their phones for 4G models free of charge, and flip phones are among the options available.

Each company must offer a wide range of options after accurately grasping the needs of users.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 15, 2022.