Verizon’s plan to shut down its 3G network at the end of this year wasn’t a surprise to most people, who by now are largely using phones powered by 4G or 5G technology. But the carrier’s move did mean the relatively few people who still rely on older phones only capable of 3G signals would be left in the dark come New Year’s Eve.
Now, Verizon says, it’ll start sending free 4G-capable phones to those affected customers. The new phones, though, aren’t like the typical gifts Verizon uses to entice customers, like a free iPhone 13 or Samsung Galaxy S22. Instead, they’re Star Trek-like flip phones, including the Orbic Journey V, TCL Flip Pro and Nokia 2720 V Flip.
The move marks Verizon’s latest effort to resolve any outstanding issues ahead of shutting down its aging 3G network. The company first announced plans to close its 3G network in 2016, at the time giving a timetable of three years. It’s delayed those plans though to the end of this year, even though it hasn’t allowed customers to activate phones that can only connect to 3G since 2018.
The carriers are shutting down these older technologies in order to devote resources to the latest iterations of their respective wireless networks. AT&T shut down its 3G network in February, while at the end of March T-Mobile shut down Sprint’s 3G network, with Sprint’s 4G LTE network being unplugged at the end of June. T-Mobile shut down its own older 3G service on July 1.
Verizon said that 99% of its customers are using 4G or 5G, with “less than 1% still accessing the 3G network.” Many of those customers anecdotally appear to be low-income people who can’t afford a better phone, or seniors who just need a phone for safety and basic communication.
Poor phone reviews
Unfortunately for Verizon, each of the phones it’s sending for free has rather poor reviews. That’s according to Verizon’s own online store, where the Nokia 2720 garnering the highest average at 2 out of 5 stars. When CNET reviewed an iteration of the phone back in 2010, we weren’t terribly impressed, either.
“As far as looks go, the Nokia 2720 Fold isn’t half bad,” wrote CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt, but she added, “you’ll never get stellar photos” out of its camera. The Flip, which Verizon is handing out for free, apparently doesn’t even have a camera.
It doesn’t have much storage space either, though that may not matter as much, she added. “Without a dedicated store for easily buying music but as with the camera, music is an incidental selling point; the Fold just isn’t positioned or provisioned to be a strong music device.”
Customer reactions weren’t that much better. One customer noted that the TCL Flip Pro doesn’t support group messaging, and “Seniorlady” left a complaint about the Orbic Journey V, saying its battery was weak and it was hard to navigate. “Hard for seniors to learn the ins and outs,” the user wrote.
The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about why it chose to send such poorly received flip phones.
Verizon said customers can opt out of getting their free phone by calling the company and asking to “decline the free phone for CDMA Sunset” which is an interesting jumble of words to remember for anyone who isn’t following the ins and outs of how carriers operate.
Verizon has said it won’t extend its plans past the end of this year, so if you’re still holding a 3G phone on Jan. 1, 2023, it’ll likely no longer work. At that point, Verizon recommends you bring it into the company’s store for battery recycling.
Correction 10:40 a.m. PT: This story initially gave an incorrect date for AT&T shuttering its 3G network. That shutdown happened in February.