AT&T Advises Customers to Upgrade Their Phones Before It Breaks Them

(Photo Illustration by Credit: Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Credit: Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Smartphones are, unfortunately, disposable pieces of technology. They’re hard to repair, have limited software support, and carriers constantly push upgrades. However, AT&T has taken things to the extreme with its latest email to customers. Using clumsy and profoundly misleading language, AT&T has advised some people with recent phones that they need to upgrade or risk losing service

The email that arrived in select inboxes over the last few days starts off mentioning all the wondrous network technology AT&T plans to deploy. However, it warns the recipient their phone is not compatible, and they’ll need to upgrade their unlocked device. Some of the phones that apparently trigger this alert are surprisingly new, as well. For example, the Galaxy S10e, which launched last year and is still available is one of these “must-upgrade” phones. The slightly older but still serviceable Nokia 6.1 is also on the list. 

Naturally, recipients of the email were confused. Granted, they purchased these phones unlocked, but why would they no longer work on AT&T’s network? Well, the miscalculation on AT&T’s part is multi-layered. Buckle in for a mind-bending tour of self-serving corporate foolishness. 

First, the impending network upgrade to which AT&T is referring won’t happen until February 2022 — the email does not explain this. That’s when the carrier will shut off its 3G network, moving to 4G and 5G only. Bugging people to upgrade new-ish phones that will work fine for a further 18 months is questionable on its own, particularly during an unprecedented global pandemic and economic disruption, but the problem is of AT&T’s own making. 

AT&T thinks your S10e might need an upgrade because reasons.

Phones like the S10e have 4G, but AT&T has chosen to only whitelist select unlocked devices for voice over LTE (VoLTE). So, when 3G shuts down, these devices will lose the ability to make calls because AT&T has arbitrarily decided it should be that way. The version of the S10e and other phones sold by AT&T will continue to work normally for the foreseeable future. 

If you received this email, you don’t need to do anything right now — your phone will keep working for a while longer. Sadly, this is not the first case of AT&T intentionally misleading its customers. Who can forge the fake 5G fiasco? You can safely ignore the hard-sell in the email and upgrade at your leisure, and possibly move to a different carrier. No one would blame you.

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