AT & T’s plans to close the 3G network next year will have a bigger impact on devices than just your uncle’s dated flip phone. Although AT&T is handing out free smartphones to affected subscribers, there is another major category of gadgets that will be affected by the shutdown, and so far none of the companies involved have said a word about what they want to do. Look, Amazon’s 3G Kindles use most of the last decade AT & T’s network for their Whispernet data connections. So what happens to all 3G-connected Kindles out there when they no longer have data?
That’s a big question, and we asked Amazon about it when we used the latter month trying to dig details about it, but the company refused to answer our repeated inquiries on the subject. Whatever it plans to do, it̵
In the absence of an official explanation or roadmap, we reached out to a couple of network and device analysts for expert comments on the possibilities.
Which devices are affected?
Not all of Amazon’s Whispernet-connected Kindles use AT & T’s 3G network, and the “Whispernet” brand has apparently been withdrawn, although Amazon previously used it to describe the optional Kindle 3G connection. Some Kindle models were Wi-Fi only, and others were available in both 3G + Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi versions only. Until Kindle 2, Amazon actually used Sprint’s network for Kindle’s mobile connection, and newer devices have LTE compatibility.
Recent LTE-connected devices like the last few models of Kindle Oasis (above) use LTE and are not affected by the 3G shutdown.
Between the 2009 and 2017 updates of the Kindle Oasis, the e-ink Whispernet-connected Kindles were all 3G devices, and (as far as we know) used all of AT & T’s 3G networks for their data connections. It includes 3G / cellular models of Kindle 2 International, Kindle DX, Kindle Keyboard, Kindle Touch, Kindle Paperwhite, 2nd gen Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle Voyage, 3rd gen Kindle Paperwhite and the original Kindle Oasis. Some models, like the Kindle DX, did not even do that have Wi-Fi to fall back on – they were only 3G.
Specifications for these devices vary, but we spoke with Moor Insights & Strategy senior analyst Anshel Sag about how AT & T’s shutdown could affect 3G-connected Kindles using the incredibly popular 2010 3G Kindle Keyboard as an example.
The classic Kindle keyboard.
While it’s hard to dig specifications for some of Amazon’s Kindles, the Kindle keyboard’s connection is powered by an AnyDATA modem that supports 3G bands 1, 2 and 5 (2100, 1900 and 850 MHz), which limits network compatibility. Hypothetical, hardware could connect to T-Mobile or Verizon’s 3G network using these frequencies, but there are some other standard issues and hardware limitations, it’s unlikely that Amazon would be willing to update a device from 2010, and both T-Mobile and Verizon also have plans to go down their 3G network within a similar time frame. At best, such a move would extend another few months of life for the devices. As 3G in the US goes away across the board, Amazon can’t just run to another operator for help.
What can Amazon do for 3G Kindle owners?
However, Kindle Keyboard hardware also supports a 900MHz GSM / 2G backup – as I suppose many of the newer 3G-connected models do – which opens a curious door. Amazon’s new Sidewalk network is still in its early days, but it also uses 900 MHz frequencies to connect to some devices. Again, this will require an update, Sidewalk does not have nearly as much coverage, and there may be other technical challenges or hardware incompatibilities, but it may be possible for Amazon to connect older Whispernet Kindle devices that way. But it still is not really a solution, and even if it were possible, the potentially millions of 3G-connected Kindles out there would only be connected within a 900MHz broadcast Echo speaker or Ring Camera (or the obvious Wi-Fi for Kindles that has that).
The best feature, according to Sag’s expert opinion, is that Amazon follows similar operator strategies and either offers free replacements or discounts for existing owners against new LTE-connected models:
“Lots of businesses and services will be affected by the sunset of 3G connectivity over the next few years to make room for 5G. Businesses like Amazon have a chance to use existing services like Sidewalk or just take the slightest resistance way and make it a positive customer service experience. “
A sword hangs in the air over a million + Kindles mobile connection, and Amazon is silent.
After all, Amazon rakes in tons of cash from Kindle e-book sales, and people who are still actively using these older models are probably still buying books at the boat volume. Right now, the only LTE-connected Kindles still sold as new by Amazon are $ 250 Paperwhite and $ 350 Oasis, both of which are quite expensive, but much of the price of these mobile-equipped models is likely to pay AT&T for data, and Amazon have already paid the bill for these older Kindles that are about to be sunset years. Amazon could offer these long-standing brand-loyal customers a bargain – or at least a discount. Cliff Maldonado, chief analyst at BayStreet Research, also believes that Amazon is likely to ship replacement devices with more modern connectivity options if customers complain enough as one once.
Either way, Amazon should probably tell customers what’s going to happen
At the time of writing, we are only seven months out of AT & T’s 3G shutdown, and Amazon has not yet publicly acknowledged the impact it will have on a decade of 3G, AT & T-connected, formerly Whispernet-branded Kindle devices.
Although I can not find official figures, Amazon said back in 2018 that it had sold tens of thousands of Kindles, estimates at the time pointed to something like 90 million active e-reader devices in the US and about 67-85% of the US e book market is controlled by Amazon, depending on who you ask. Expand these numbers to an estimate of the order of magnitude (assuming there are many things, such as the ratio of reviews between cellular vs. non-cellular Kindle models that indicate the ratio of devices sold), and there are probably at least one million 3G-connected Kindles devices set to lose connection next year, and probably more.
A sword hangs in the air over a million + Kindles mobile connection, and Amazon is silent. The company did not answer any of our questions regarding the impact of AT & T’s 3G shutdown on its 3G-connected Kindles (or even answered with a general statement), but AT&T gave us the following:
“Like others in the industry, we plan to end the service on our 3G wireless network next year. This will help free up the spectrum to better meet the next generation of technologies and services. These plans are not new and we have been working with our customers and business customers during this transition. “
There are Kindle alternatives if the silence of the Amazon makes you think about changing ecosystems.
Customers who use Amazon’s Kindle devices and stores are likely to have plenty of brand loyalty – given the store built into their hardware, if nothing else. But if Amazon’s lack of explanation for your Kindle’s future leaves a sour taste in your mouth, there are other options. Barnes & Noble is still selling its Nook hardware, and the last time we checked it out, it was pretty good. Kobo also continues under Rakuten ownership with both an e-book store and its own devices. (Amazon seems to be the only one to offer e-readers connected to cell phones.) Fortunately, other e-book stores offer the same great publishers and authors you miss on Amazon’s “Kindle Direct” line of self-published titles – which is not necessarily even a bad thing.
Either way, Amazon really was supposed to tell its customers what will happen to nearly ten years of 3G-connected Kindles in just over half a year, but so far it has not.