I’m not sure if anyone sat you down already to tell you, but the old 3G cellular network that you once loved—the one it’s possible you sent your very first sexts on—is shutting down. Most of us have moved on to newer devices that don’t rely on this network anymore, with one possible exception: your car. Many cars use the 3G network for a variety of features, and with the network going away—the industry calls it “sunsetting,” which is somehow creepier—those cars may find themselves unable to do things you once counted on them to do.
I’m a little surprised these cellular carriers didn’t go further with their euphemistic “sunsetting” language and call it “funsetting” or something, but it really doesn’t matter because by January T-Mobile’s 3G network will be gone, by February AT&Ts, and Verizon will hold out a bit longer, to December 2022.
But then, that’s it. The 3G network has to go away because the electromagnetic spectrum has a limited number of frequencies, and those frequencies are like real estate: you can’t really create new ones, and what’s there is very valuable.
Just look at this chart of how the RF spectrum was divided up in the United States around 2016:
Holy crap, right? If you want to expand coverage of a given service, you need that room in the spectrum to do it, so something has to give. In this case, the now-outdated 3G network is what’s going to have to give, and it will be giving up its space on the RF spectrum to newer cellular communication standards like 5G, and upcoming ones like, you guessed it, 6G.
Mostly, people are happy to see these changes happen, both because the service improvements are significant (average download speed for a 3G network was about 3 Mbps, where 5G is, on average, about 50 Mbps) and we tend to upgrade our devices that make the most use of these networks pretty frequently, and by this I mostly mean our phones.
Our cars, though, we hold on to a lot longer. And some of our cars have features designed to work with 3G data communication frequencies.
Great question, you! Well, essentially any car-related service that relies on a connection to some outside server and can only use a 3G connection will be rendered useless, unless the carmaker has some method of transitioning that feature to use a more modern network.
For example, Volkswagen’s Car-Net service that allows for things like remote start, making sure your kid isn’t speeding when they borrow your GTI, and a whole host of other handy features, but if you enjoy these on almost everything VW made from 2014 to as recently as 2019, you’re going to be boned when the 3G sun sets.
VW is on AT&T’s network, so if you have, say, a 2018 Beetle or a 2019 Arteon or Atlas or eGolf or GTI or whatever, better enjoy those features before the very memorable, almost-all-twos date of 2/22/2022, because that’s when it shuts off.
There’s no real recourse here beyond a refund if you’ve paid for the service January 30; those features will just be gone.
Of course, it’s by no means just Volkswagen here; lots of carmakers have affected models, and I’m happy to list carmakers and models here, though I’m not going to say this list is absolutely comprehensive.
Here’s a rakishly non-alphabetical list of carmakers and their affected models:
Blue Link Telematics System will stop, affecting all 2012-2014 models, all 2015 models except for nav-capable Sonatas, and 2016 Sonata Hybrids, Elantra, Elantra GT, Santa Fe, Veloster, and Sonata Hybrid models.
In-vehicle WiFi services definitely affected, other online services unclear as of yet.
BMW explained the situation to us like this:
Approximately 1 million MY2018 and older vehicles will be affected. And I think it’s worth restating that the decision to phase out 2G and 3G network technology was made at the discretion of the various cellular carriers and lies beyond the control of BMW.
My Ford Mobile services have been 3G based on a number of models, and, as their troubleshooting site states (emphasis mine):
*My Ford Mobile includes a complimentary subscription that activates with vehicle sale date, requires compatible 3G cellular network connectivity, and is subject to 3G network availability. Evolving technology/cellular networks may affect future functionality. Message and data rates may apply. Refer to www.myfordmobile.com for further details. NOTE: MyFord Mobile Customer Description for 17MY and Prior Focus BEV, C-MAX Energi, Fusion Energi: MyFord Mobile with 5-year complimentary subscription MyFord Mobile Customer Description for 18MY Focus BEV, Fusion Energi: MyFord Mobile with a 3-year complimentary subscription.
I reached out to Ford, and was told a “plan with details” is forthcoming.
The OnStar network will be affected for many cars with OnStar modules that use 3G systems. Based on this Technical Service Bulletin, it seems in many cases the module may be able to be upgraded :
Some customers may inquire about continued OnStar functionality after the 3G network is sunset. Some OnStar modules and services rely on the 3G network for functionality. This includes some TTY/TDD functionalities in certain vehicles. The telecommunications provider is scheduling to sunset the 3G network in February 2022. In addition to this, a continuous improvement software update is being released with updates made on the following areas: TTY/TDD, Turn by Turn (TBT), diagnostics, remote services, GPS time and date, and other general system improvements.
I’d suggest reading over that TSB if you have a GM vehicle.
The Porsche MyConnect system will be affected on the following models:
Porsche’s website also mentions that a “technology upgrade” may be possible to continue using these services.
Audi has a number of affected models that will potentially lose services like remote charging for their EVs, Wi-Fi hotspots, weather information, Google Voice searches, and more.
Here’s the affected cars:
2016 – 2018: A3 e-tron
2013 – 2015: A4/A5/Q5
2014 – 2015 allroad
2017 – 2018: allroad/A4
2016 – 2017: A5
2012 – 2015: A6/A7/A8/Q7
2016 – 2018: A8
2015 – 2018: Q32018: Q5
2017 – 2018: Q7
2016 – 2017: Q5
2019: RS 5
Audi’s site does not appear to mention any upgrade path.
UPDATE: Audi got back to me to inform me they’ve partnered with a company called Moijo who has developed a unit that plugs into the OBD port and provides a 4G connection. This should be available in early 2022.
The VW Car-Net services, including remote unlocking, SOS/emergency calls, stolen vehicle locators, curfew alerts, speed alerts, parking location, and more will be affected. Here’s the affected models:
Like Audi, no upgrade path has been mentioned.
Toyota’s services will hang on a little longer, with a date of November 2022 being the cutoff.
The Entune App Suite for Prius Plug-in, RAV4 EV, and Mirai will stop being supported in November 2022, and these models will no longer have any of Toyota’s Safety Connect features:
2011-2017 Toyota Sienna
2012-2016 Toyota Prius v
2013-2018 Toyota Avalon/HV
2012-2014 Toyota RAV4 EV
2012-2015 Toyota Prius Plug-in
2013-2017 Toyota Camry/HV
2016-2017 Toyota Mirai
2010-2016 Toyota Prius
2014-2018 Toyota Highlander/HV
2011-2017 Toyota Land Cruiser
2010-2019 Toyota 4Runner
Some Safety Connect customers may be eligible for a software update.
Infiniti owners have received a notice from the company that states, in part:
Your vehicle is equipped with a TCU (Telematics Control Unit) designed to connect to the AT&T 3G cellular network. This connection to the 3G network is necessary in order for INFINITI InTouch Services to operate. The 3G cellular network service provider, AT&T, has announced its decision to discontinue 3G cellular network coverage by February 22, 2022. As a result of AT&T’s termination of 3G network coverage, INFINITI InTouch Services features that require a 3G network connection will no longer operate in your vehicle, and your INFINITI InTouch Services subscription will become inactive. This decision to discontinue 3G network coverage was not made by Nissan and this change is not within INFINITI’s control.
Nissan’s reps gave us this statement:
Cellular service provider AT&T has announced its decision to discontinue its 3G cellular network coverage in the U.S. by February 22, 2022. As a result, automakers with telematics services that utilize AT&T’s 3G network, including Nissan, will have connectivity services affected.
This applies to certain Nissan vehicles between 2011 and 2018 with NissanConnect Services. Nissan has contacted these customers to inform them of this change. Customers can also call 1-855-426-6628 to verify whether their vehicle is impacted.
Affected customers, who were enrolled by June 1, 2021, will still have access to NissanConnect services until February 22, 2022.”
Also, here’s the list of affected Nissan vehciles:
-2017-2018 Rogue Sport
-2017 TITAN XD
Select 2011-2015 LEAF vehicles were upgraded with 3G telematics units
Honda appears to have an over-the-air (OTA) update available to permit affected cars to continue to use their HondaLink and WiFi hotspot services. The OTA update must happen before February 22, 2022 since the update needs to be sent on the 3G network. After that date, the update will need to happen via WiFi or USB.
Here are the affected models that need the update:
- 2018-2020 Accord Touring
- 2018-2020 Odyssey Touring & Elite
- 2019-2020 Insight Touring
- 2019-2022 Pilot Touring, Elite and Black Edition
- 2019-2021 Passport Touring & Elite
Interestingly, while Honda has an OTA update, rich-sibling Acura does not seem to, so AcuraLink services for 2014-2017 will be disabled. Acura does mention the possibility of having a vehicle “updated with a new device” to continue services.
Here’s the affected models:
- 2014-2017 MDX
- 2015-2017 TLX
- 2016-2017 ILX
- 2014-2016 RLX
- 2016-2017 RDX
- 2017 NSX
A dealer notice references “repair procedures” for 2016-2019 CX-5, CX-9, Mazda6, and CX-3, along with 2016-2018 Mazda3 models, relating to “Mazda Mobile Start 3G Sunset-REPAIR” so if you have one of these Mazdas, it appears there is some sort of update plan in place, though I can’t be certain of what that involves.
Subaru’s Starlink safety and security connected services will be affected for these models:
- 2016-2018 Forester 2.5i Premium
- 2016-2018 Forester 2.5i Limited
- 2016-2018 Forester 2.5i Touring
- 2016-2018 Forester 2.0XT Premium
- 2016-2018 Forester 2.0XT Touring
- 2016-2018 Legacy 2.5i Premium
- 2016-2018 Legacy 2.5i Limited
- 2016-2018 Legacy 3.6R Limited
- 2017-2018 Legacy 2.5i Sport
- 2016-2018 Outback 2.5i Premium
- 2016-2018 Outback 2.5i Limited
- 2016-2018 Outback 3.6R Limited
- 2017-2018 Outback 2.5i Sport
- 2016-2018 Impreza 2.0i Limited
- 2016 Impreza 2.0i Sport Premium with Eyesight
- 2016 Impreza 2.0i Sport Limited
- 2017-2018 Impreza 2.0i Premium
- 2017-2018 Impreza 2.0i Sport
- 2016-2017 Crosstrek 2.0i Premium with Eyesight
- 2016-2018 Crosstrek 2.0i Limited
- 2018 Crosstrek 2.0i Premium
- 2017 WRX 2.0T Premium with Harman Kardon
- 2017-2018 WRX 2.0T Limited
- 2017-2018 WRX 2.5T STi
...the good news is that Subaru appears to have a dealer-installed upgrade plan in place, so if you have one of those Subarus, call your dealer and get that taken care of!
Only Model S cars built before 2015 are affected, and those can be upgraded to have an LTE-capable modem.
Volvo’s 2015-2017 vehicles (S60, V60, V60 Cross Country, XC60, XC70, and XC90) are affected, but Volvo does plan to offer an upgrade path, though it’s not currently explained in detail. Volvo’s site offers an information request form, though.
Stellantis’ plan is not yet clear, but what is clear are their plans to make money via connected services, so I’d suspect they’d like to figure out some sort of solution to keep as many cars online as possible.
No Yugo models, including the GV, GV Plus, GVX, or GVC Cabrio are affected by the 3G sunset.
I realize this list is incomplete, and it’s possible your particular car’s maker may have a plan. I’m surprised by how much variability there is here, with some companies offering real upgrade paths, and some just washing their hands of it all.
We’ll update as we hear back from manufacturers. In the meantime, I guess just use your phone for all this stuff like us chumps with pre-internet cars do.