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AT&T tells customers to buy new phones because their old ones will stop 2022

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Not the best move in the middle of a pandemic

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

If AT&T sent you an email telling you to upgrade your phone — or else — would you write it off as a scam? Well, that’s just what the company did this week, as reported by Android Police.

Under the big, blue, bold, all-caps heading “UPDATE NEEDED,” the carrier is telling some customers that their devices are “not compatible with the new network” and that they “need to replace it to continue receiving service.”

Here’s the email:

Image: Android Police
Image: Android Police

One big problem here: despite what it sounds like, these customers don’t actually need to swap out their phones until early 2022, AT&T confirms to The Verge.

As Android Police suggested earlier, what AT&T is actually doing here is recommending upgrades ahead of the shutdown of AT&T’s 3G network. That’s scheduled to happen “by February 2022,” according to an AT&T link that reportedly also appears in the email. When the 3G network goes away, AT&T says that phones that don’t support HD Voice, which routes calls over 4G LTE, won’t be able to make voice calls or use data on AT&T.

Yes, in the middle of an economy-wrecking pandemic, at a time when buying a new phone might be the last thing on someone’s mind, AT&T has seemingly been caught trying to boost sales by scaring customers about a deadline that’s over a year and a half away, by which time newer, more capable and 5G-ready phones will undoubtedly be available.

It’s not a great look, even though AT&T now says it was an honest mistake:

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.

Weirdly, some customers with newer phones, which should theoretically support HD Voice, say they got the email too. The person who started the main thread on AT&T’s support forum said they use a Galaxy S10 E, a phone that was released in March 2019.

Update, July 22nd, 5:45PM ET: Added statement from AT&T.