The beginning of the end of the 3G era of wireless devices starts Wednesday when AT&T is expected to shut down these old networks. Yet despite being left behind in the march toward 4G and now 5G networks, the impact of the "sunset" on 3G devices carries serious risks for some devices.

Millions of devices remain reliant on 3G networks to stay functional. Some of these are of critical importance for many users and businesses and include home security devices, medical alert monitors and even certain car systems which will all be disrupted by the retirement of these networks.

AT&T is not alone in making the move. T-Mobile announced that it would be shutting down its own 3G networks by July 1, and Verizon said it will do the same by the end of the year.

But opponents have been outspoken about how these plans will impact their work and, even worse, potentially jeopardize lives. Industry groups have expressed their concerns about the retirement of 3G, warning about the risks that will result from the switch.

According to The School Superintendents Association, about 10% of all public school buses across the country will lose GPS and communications services, while San Francisco has warned that about 650 prediction delay systems at bus stations across the city will stop displaying real-time information after Wednesday.

Home security devices will also be at risk of being rendered ineffective by the 3G sunset. Many home burglar and fire alarms will go offline because of their reliance on 3G technology. The concern is palatable enough that some industry figures warn lives may be put at risk by 3G’s retirement, especially for seniors.

"We’re talking about life-saving devices. We’re not talking about somebody’s stereo speakers switching out on them while they’re listening to a Beatles record," said Tom Kamber, the executive director of Older Adult Technology Services from AARP. “This is a situation where these devices are designed to save lives.”

Daniel Oppenheim, the president of the Medical Alert Monitoring Association, acknowledged that the industry had at least three years to prepare for this move since it was first announced by AT&T, but the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to pare back their upgrade plans.

“When companies were able, and seniors were more comfortable letting people into their home, we were not able to get devices because of the supply chain,” Oppenheim said. “So it’s been very difficult for these companies to even get products to be able to swap out and work with their customers to get them to 4G or 5G before this deadline."

AT&T does not appear to be divorced from the concerns that have mounted in response to its decision to shut down its 3G services and has offered tips for customers on how to adjust to the transition. On its website, the company shared a list of phone models that would be affected by its move and it has offered to upgrade some devices for free.

According to Axios, AT&T says it has built a plug-in device to automatically connect alarm systems that run on 3G to a modern LTE network to keep them in operation. The Federal Communications Commission has insisted that AT&T ensure its transition plans will not be a completely adverse burden on users.