GREENSBORO, N.C. — For years, cell phone towers beamed 3G signals across the country. As 5G moves in, 3G is going away.
AT&T ended the service Tuesday. It's a big deal for people with older phones, older cars, and even emergency alert devices like Life Alert.
Say a senior pushes the button on their emergency alert device. The device sends a signal that eventually reaches help. The problem is, some devices could be using a 3G antenna and when it's turned off, it doesn't work. That means help is never alerted.
"It's really hard for us to figure out how we can get to you in an emergency if we don't have a reliable way of communication," Conor Baker said.
Baker is the Operations Coordinator for Guilford County Emergency Management.
He said not upgrading 3G devices can also mean missing important safety alerts like tornado warnings.
"We really want people to be able to receive that information so they can take appropriate action and move out harms way if they need to do so," Baker said.
EMS and 911 cannot fix outdated devices.
Cell companies can help you update a phone, usually to a 4G or newer capable device.
Manufacturers should be able to help with updating car systems or emergency alert devices.
Baker said this affects seniors more and family members might need to help with the process.
"If they know that it's not going to work in an emergency, I think that jogs peoples minds and says, 'oh I really need to get this device that's going to help me and work in an emergency," Baker said.
Guilford County said if you need to buy a new cell phone, don't throw the old one away. They recommend reaching out to the county's Household Hazardous Waste program to find out how you can dispose of it safely.
AT&T was the first to turn off its 3G towers. All other service providers will follow suit in the coming weeks and months.