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How Will the End of 3G Affect Your Car?

How Will the End of 3G Affect Your Car?

Can you hear me now?

  • The 3G data network is being shuttered in 2022.
  • Certain vehicle communication features reliant on 3G will stop working.
  • The rise of the 5G network promises new automotive technology features, however.

Cars are some of the most technologically advanced and complicated purchases we'll make in our lifetime. As is the case with most technologies, some vehicle features eventually fade into obsolescence, which leads us to the shuttering of the older 3G broadband cellular network. It's being sunsetted to make way for the faster 5G network, which may help usher in the next generation of in-car technology.

There are plenty of vehicles that rely on the 3G network, leaving many owners wondering how the loss of communication might affect their car. We're here to cut through the noise to let you know what it may mean to you and what you can do to minimize its impact.

What is 3G?

3G is the third generation of cellular networks that transmit and receive data from cellular towers to your personal device. Historically, new network generations have debuted at the beginning of each decade since the 1980s. 3G replaced the 2G network in the 2000s and greatly increased data speeds and bandwidth, setting the stage for mobile web browsing, social media and video streaming.

As you'd expect, 4G introduced even faster data speeds in the 2010s. 5G promises an even more significant improvement into the 2020s. Up until recently, these networks have been operating simultaneously, but in order to accommodate the 5G network's larger digital footprint, the 3G network will be shut down. AT&T has already begun the process and other carriers are expected to decommission their networks throughout the year.

What systems still use 3G?

The features most affected by the 3G shutdown are related to infotainment and safety. Don't panic when you read the safety part, though — your car is still safe to drive, but you just may be missing a few features that are lurking in the background. These include crash notification and emergency services communication (the SOS button in some vehicles).

The automatic crash notification feature senses if a vehicle was involved in a collision and automatically contacts local emergency services with your location. This is particularly helpful if the driver is incapacitated. The SOS button serves a similar function but requires the user to summon help.

Other systems that may be affected include Wi-Fi hotspots and features that can be controlled through a carmaker's smartphone app. Remote monitoring of your vehicle, remote control over some functions (unlocking, remote start, preconditioning air conditioning), vehicle diagnostics and updates to maps and software could be disabled.

How do I know if my car is affected?

Unfortunately, there is no universal solution to address the loss of the 3G network. As a result, every manufacturer is offering its own fix wherever applicable. There are a few resources online being updated with the latest information, but your best bet is to contact a local dealership regarding your vehicle to learn what options are available.

In some cases, features such as automatic crash notification will simply be discontinued. Some manufacturers will offer over-the-air updates, but only while the 3G network is still active, so car owners will want to act quickly. A handful offer upgrades and equipment to make use of the newer 4G network at additional cost.

It seems for the moment that owners of Ford and Mazda vehicles will be the least likely to be affected by the shutdown because those vehicles rely on a driver's smartphone for communication and crash notification. That's assuming, however, the owners have paired their 4G phones with the system. Mitsubishi has been rather late in adopting some of these features, and fortunately those vehicles are already on the 4G network.

What will 5G do for us?

The new 5G network features drastically quicker data transfer speeds and bandwidth compared to 3G or 4G. Theoretically, 4G was as much as 100 times faster than 3G and 5G could be another 10-20 times faster than 4G. On its most basic level, 5G speeds will result in quicker browsing if you're using a vehicle's Wi-Fi hotspot and cloud-based map data will be sharper, quicker and more detailed.

Engineers have been waiting for the 5G rollout for quite some time, especially as it relates to future technology. V2X (vehicle-to-everything) communication may be an important step toward automated and eventually fully automated vehicles. Audi has been at the forefront of this type of vehicle communication, partnering with governments and municipalities to develop the next generation of in-car tech.

Audi has been studying how networking vehicles together can improve safety and traffic flow by using the data streaming from one car to other cars or the local infrastructure. Traffic jams may be easier to avoid, accidents just around the next bend might be less of a surprise and, yes, perhaps someday you won't even have to drive. In certain areas today, eligible vehicles can alert the driver to approaching emergency vehicles or give them a countdown to a green light.

Edmunds says

Don't panic — your car will still drive after the 3G network shutdown. Some features, including automatic crash notification and emergency services, may be discontinued or require upgrades, so check with your dealer to see what's available to you.