AT&T’s Cricket Wireless prepaid business said it will soon begin requiring its new customers to use phones that support voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) technology. That move is part of AT&T’s preparations to shut down its 3G network in early 2022.
“Cricket Wireless will prevent new activations of non-VoLTE devices from working on the network beginning in 2020,” the operator wrote on its website. “Customers who activate a non-VoLTE BYOD [bring your own device] device prior to mid-2020 can continue to use this device with uninterrupted Cricket service until the 3G network shutdown in early 2022. After the 3G network shutdown, customers will need a compatible VoLTE capable device for continued voice and data service on the Cricket Wireless network.”
Cricket’s website previously said that the operator would stop activating non-VoLTE phones starting January 1, 2020, but the operator changed that date following inquiries on the topic from Light Reading.
VoLTE is a technology that transmits voice calls over an operator’s 4G LTE network. It represents an upgrade to previous calling technology that used 3G or 2G. AT&T isn’t alone in working to move its voice-calling traffic from older networks and onto 4G LTE. T-Mobile, Verizon and other operators are also in various stages of moving voice calling from older networks and onto VoLTE.
AT&T said it will not impose similar restrictions on its AT&T-branded service. “We haven’t announced any plans to stop activating certain devices, but encourage our customers to start upgrading their 3G or non-VoLTE LTE devices before early 2022,” a spokesperson told Light Reading in response to questions on the topic.
Wave7 Research, which carefully tracks US operators’ pricing and promotions, first reported Cricket’s VoLTE mandate.
AT&T purchased Cricket prepaid provider Leap Wireless in 2014, and has made the company’s Cricket brand a cornerstone of its prepaid strategy. Earlier this year AT&T said it was serving 10 million Cricket customers.
Verizon is also preparing to shut down its 3G network. The operator had initially planned to shutter its 3G network at the end of this year, but just a few months ago the operator confirmed it will instead turn the network off at the end of 2020.
Wireless network operators routinely shut down aging networks and move customers onto newer, faster networks that use their spectrum resources more efficiently. Operators of all kinds, including AT&T and Verizon, are now in the middle of that transition with 5G.