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T-Mobile delays shutdown of Sprint 3G CDMA network

Folks using Sprint’s legacy 3G CDMA network may have just won a slight reprieve, with a new report revealing that T-Mobile has pushed back the date of its shutdown by another two months. T-Mobile, which merged with Sprint in 2020, had planned to decommission the aging 3G network on March 31, 2022. However, The T-Mo Report has discovered that the carrier has quietly extended the deadline to May 31, 2022, instead.

A cellular radio tower in the moonlight with a fence in the foreground.
kris / Unsplash

The change initially came to light via a post on Reddit, where someone noticed the new date on the website of Softbank, which previously owned Sprint. Although T-Mobile hasn’t made a public announcement, The T-Mo Report confirmed that several Sprint customers with older phones received an email directly from the carrier. Those with phones that can’t use LTE were told that they now have until May 31, 2022, before the Sprint CDMA network shuts down. However, even this date may not be final. A footnote on the Softbank page adds that “there is a possibility that the date of May 31 will be rescheduled in [the] future.”

Sunsetting legacy 3G services

T-Mobile initially wanted to shut down the Sprint 3G network on January 1, 2022, but delayed it to March 31, when its partner, Dish, raised concerns that it didn’t have enough time to migrate its legacy customers over to the Boost Mobile network. When Sprint merged with T-Mobile in 2020, it was required to divest itself of its prepaid services, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, which were sold off to Dish to ensure the industry remained competitive. Regulators hoped that Dish could rise from the ashes of Sprint to take over the vacated fourth-place spot on the top carriers list.

A Boost Mobile store.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

With the acquisition of Boost Mobile, Dish was also permitted to piggyback on T-Mobile’s network for seven years. Although nothing in that agreement prevents T-Mobile from shutting down legacy 3G services such as the old Sprint CDMA network, it’s been under pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice to work with Dish to reduce the impact on the many customers who rely on the older 3G technology.

Dish has been scrambling to upgrade customers to newer phones, but it’s not moving fast enough for T-Mobile. In a blog post last summer, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert accused his “friends at Dish” of “dragging their feet in getting their customers upgraded to the superior 4G/5G world,” calling the issue a “manufactured crisis, orchestrated by Dish.”

In October, when T-Mobile extended the shutdown for the 3G CDMA network to March 31, the company released a statement that it was “stepping up” on behalf of partners that hadn’t “followed through on their responsibility to help their customers through this shift.” It seems evident that one of the “partners” in question was Dish.

Meanwhile, Dish executives have pointed to COVID-related issues and supply chain problems as reasons for the delays. However, T-Mobile has been quick to point out that it’s been successfully transitioning its Sprint CDMA customers since early last year, providing them with new 5G phones for free on plans that will provide better service at no additional cost.

It’s not clear if Dish is the reason for this latest extension, as T-Mobile hasn’t made any official announcement yet. T-Mobile has yet to update its Network Evolution page with the new date, which still shows March 31, 2022. T-Mobile also plans to decommission its own 3G UMTS network by July 1, 2022, and Sprint’s LTE network by June 30, 2022. Although the company plans to retire its even older GSM 2G network eventually, it has yet to set a date for that.

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