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[Update: Apology] AT&T tells customers to upgrade phones to avoid losing voice calls… two years early

There are countless examples of carriers trying to convince people they need a new phone, but this latest example from AT&T is especially worrying. Through an email going out to thousands of customers, AT&T is warning that those users need to upgrade their phones to avoid losing the ability to make voice calls. The problem? That won’t happen for nearly two years.

As first reported by Android Police, the email pictured below is being sent out to customers with a statement in bold that “your device is not compatible with the new network.” This is referring to AT&T’s plan to shut down its 3G network, still used by some devices for voice calls and data. When that happens, only phones that support VoLTE (voice over LTE) will be allowed on the network.

Update 7/23: AT&T has apologized for its lack of clarity with this email. The carrier explained to Gizmodo that this email was “one of many” which were planned to inform customers of the 3G network shutdown and that the lack of a date in the email was an oversight.

This email was one of many planned to keep customers informed about the shutdown of our 3G network in early 2022. It should have included the date that certain devices would no longer be supported. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused and will be more clear in future updates.

It’s nice that AT&T is admitting its shortcoming here, but obviously more action could have been taken. The carrier could have issued a new email to all customers it sent the original one — I’d bet the vast majority aren’t reading these news stories — and/or announced plans to better handle unlocked devices. In this statement, the carrier made no mention of potentially opening the door for more unlocked devices to gain VoLTE support on the network.

AT&T’s email lets customers know that their current phone isn’t compatible with VoLTE, but without explaining that explicitly or, more importantly, mentioning that their phone will continue to work until February 2022!

Adding to the pain point of this email is that AT&T only supports a limited number of VoLTE phones. Specifically, it mostly officially supports “HDVoice” only on devices it sells directly. One user on AT&T’s forums was using the pretty-recent Galaxy S10e and received this email, simply because it was a model not sold through the carrier directly. Understandably, the lack of context provided in the email had that user and several others thinking it was a scam.

It’s possible AT&T could whitelist more devices for VoLTE in the future, but in the meantime the carrier clearly wants to lead — and I’d argue this email is misleading — customers to just upgrading to a new phone.

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Ben is a writer and video producer for 9to5Google.

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