How T-Mobile’s 3G shutdown will impact Google Fi and older pixels
The long and drawn-out death of carrier 3G services in the US is approaching its dramatic close, with T-Mobile next to flip the switch off on its legacy systems in July. Google Fi, being a T-Mobile MVNO, will also be affected when that happens, and the company has detailed exactly how subscribers will be affected.
For a brief context dump, while you can make a call using 4G on most carriers through VoLTE, not all devices have that functionality, as devices need both the software features to do it and must typically be approved by a carrier to make VoLTE calls on their network. Some older devices made do by falling back on 2G or 3G for calls, but spectrum refarming on the part of carriers to repurpose those old frequencies for 4G and 5G use is killing that legacy workaround.
Google’s June update for currently supported Pixel models delivered VoLTE roaming “for many US and global carriers,” according to the company’s documentation, ensuring that recent Pixels will be able to place calls even after the 3G networks are shut down. This will eventually include the Pixel 3a, which is set to get its final update “by July.” Many Google Fi subscribers use pixels, so that means those with more recent models should be unaffected.
These details were already known, but now Google is fleshing out more of how the T-Mobile 3G shutdown in July will impact Google Fi subscribers on other phones, and the company has provided us with a few extra details regarding specific models of Pixel phones and exactly how they will be affected.
What if I have an older Pixel?
Google has explicitly stated that subscribers still using a Pixel 1 or Pixel 2 will be affected by this shutdown. As older devices that did not receive the VoLTE roaming update in June of 2022, they will not have connectivity while roaming in the US. Google Fi support docs don’t mention it, but these devices do support VoLTE in other circumstances.
The Pixel 1 and 2 will have issues on Fi following the shutdown in certain circumstances.
Google has confirmed to Android Police that Fi customers using a Pixel 1 or 2 will still be able to place calls using VoLTE when on the T-Mobile home network and not roaming, and that they will also be able to place non-VoLTE calls when on the US Cellular home network — in the US, Fi uses both of these networks, switching between them as needed on supported devices.
However, there are still times when Fi subscribers end up roaming in a domestic capacity on other regional networks. For example, T-Mobile’s roaming partner networks mean you can be on T-Mobile but serviced in certain locations by Viaero, Commnet Wireless, and other smaller regional carriers (there are a surprising number of those). We’re told if any of these roaming partner networks don’t support 2G or 3G, customers may lose voice calling services, including 911 calls, or data connectivity.
In short, if you stick with a Pixel 1 or Pixel 2 on Google Fi, you might be in the clear in certain areas and retain your ability to make and receive calls, but you could see a loss in call functionality or all connectivity in other areas.
The Pixel 3 series is also affected to a lesser degree, and Google claims that the phones may have reduced ability to make phone calls while roaming.
Given these older Pixel devices are no longer receiving security patch updates, those affected should likely upgrade to more recent and better-supported hardware — if not for better calls, then for their own security and safety.
What if I have a non-VoLTE phone?
Non-VoLTE devices will have no ability to place voice calls at all, including emergency calls. However, Google does point out that these devices may still be able to make and receive calls via Wi-Fi — a feature of Google Fi and many other carriers.
If you’re not sure whether your phone supports VoLTE, you can check with the Google Fi compatibility tool. Frustratingly, the tool doesn’t actually indicate whether a device supports VoLTE roaming, which is also important, but it’s a good ballpark indicator. Affected customers may also be contacted by Google regarding the issue if they haven’t been already.
What if I’m usually on 3G with Google Fi?
Cell signal is what it is, and towers are where they are, which means you may not have a choice regarding what your phone connects to. If you are on Google Fi and you notice that your phone only seems to connect to 3G in the areas you live or work in, you may lose service.
Google has a coverage checker that can tell you if your area should be served by 4G or 5G on Google Fi, so it’s easy to see. If you find yourself now outside a service area, your only real choice is to switch carriers.
Those sticking with Fi and affected by the 3G shutdown really have just one option: Buy a new phone. A while back, Google offered those affected a $100 credit to upgrade to a new model, but that offer has since expired — and actually gotten better. Google tells Android Police that it’s now providing customers with a non-VoLTE phone a $200 credit on the Fi store toward service when they upgrade to a new device through Google Fi. Even more surprisingly, I’m told that can be combined with other offers, which doesn’t usually happen. But even without the credit, buying a phone from Google Fi itself presents a better deal than most carrier offers.
The Pixel 5a is my pick for the best sub-$500 phone period, and the added discount on Fi makes it an incredible deal.
For $15 a month, you can upgrade to a Pixel 5a on a subscription basis other get another upgrade in two more years, which is a pretty great deal and saves around $100 compared to buying it outright, and this is the choice I’d recommend. The Pixel 5a is one of my favorite mid-range phones, and though it will soon be replaced by the Pixel 6a, it’s a fantastic deal.
If you want something nicer, Google offers a Pixel Pass subscription that gets you not just a Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro, but YouTube Premium, YouTube Music Premium, Google One cloud storage, Google Play Pass, other insurance for loss, theft, or damage for $45 a month, and it also earns you a $5 a month reduction on your Google Fi bill. If you want all the bells and whistles in both your phone and service without paying a lot up front, it’s probably the way to go.
The Galaxy A13 5G on Google Fi is also a great deal on a budget.
If you’re on a more extreme budget, you can get the Samsung A03s for $160 plus $50 in Fi bill credit or a Samsung A13 5G for $200 — a $50 discount. The Samsung Galaxy A13 5G is great for the price, and one of our favorite budget picks for a smartphone right now.
Other big discounts on Fi right now include $400 off a Galaxy S Flip3 — a very fun phone that I think isn’t for everyone, and which is expected to be replaced very soon by a new model. The S22 series including the Galaxy S22 Ultra is also $300 off on Google Fi, and almost every phone the carrier sells is either a few bucks off or includes a month or two of bill credits.
updates: Our coverage originally stated that Google was offering a $200 discount towards a new phone for customers that upgraded from a non-VoLTE device. It’s actually a service credit that applies to your monthly bill. The details regarding the promo have been updated.