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If You Use This Popular Cell Service, Your Phone May Not Work Soon

Millions of customers could see their devices get cut off in the coming months.

The world of cell phones has changed drastically in the past decade, both in the technology we use and the industry that runs the networks that keep you connected. Some improvements have made it easier to use our devices in ways we never dreamed possible, while others simply make it less likely you'll drop a call. But there are certain changes in the works that could see a popular cell service provider shut down a major network in the coming months, leaving millions with a phone that may not work. Read on to see which wireless company might be dropped from the airwaves.

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Your phone may not work soon if you use Boost Mobile.

Boost Mobile store exterior
Jonathan Weiss /

If you're a Boost Mobile customer, you may see your phone go dark soon. The potential blackout is thanks to a brewing dispute between the mobile provider's new parent company, Dish Network, and its current network provider, T-Mobile.

Earlier this year, Dish Network accused T-Mobile of breaking key parts of an agreement with the carrier when it threatened to power down its CDMA 3G cellular network to bolster its newer technologies. The shutdown, planned for Jan. 1, 2022, would leave millions of Boost Mobile customers with phones that won't work with the 4G and 5G networks T-Mobile operates.

The U.S. Department of Justice has "grave concerns" about the potential shutdown.

Throwing smartphone in garbage

Bickering between the two companies has reached a fever pitch months after they were brought together as the result of a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile. At the time, Dish agreed to take control of Sprint-owned Boost Mobile to help the deal go through, smoothing over Department of Justice (DOJ) regulators' antitrust concerns by creating a fourth large competitor in the cellular service provider market to keep prices low. As per the agreement, Dish would continue to operate on T-Mobile's network while it was given seven years to build an infrastructure of its own that could serve at least 70 percent of the U.S.

But a quickly deepening quarrel between the two companies has led to both sides accusing the other of falling short of their initial agreement. Now, federal regulators are concerned that the move to mothball the network will leave millions stranded without service. "The Division is left with grave concerns about the potential for a nationwide CDMA shutdown to leave a substantial proportion of Boost's customers without service," Richard Powers, acting head of the DOJ's antitrust division, wrote to Dish and T-Mobile in a July 9 letter.

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Dish Network will have to provide millions of Boost Mobile customers with new phones to solve the problem.

A woman using an iPhone

Dish has become vocal about the souring relationship between the two companies, with Charlie Ergen, CEO of Dish Network, saying T-Mobile and Sprint have "become the Grinch" since the merger during an April conference call, Vice reports. T-Mobile has since shot back, claiming that Dish was creating the problem by not being willing to provide subscribers with the devices they need.

"This is a manufactured crisis, orchestrated by Dish, and it is about money, not customers," Mike Sievert, T-Mobile Chief Executive Officer, wrote in a company blog post on Aug. 9. "If Dish was really concerned for customers, they would simply take real action and get their customers new phones on time, before the network upgrade happens, just as T-Mobile is doing for affected Sprint customers. It's that simple."

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The network shutdown could especially affect economically disadvantaged people.

A young woman looks at her smartphone with a concerned look on her face.

So far, Dish isn't just rolling over on the rocky relationship. The company recently brokered a deal with AT&T to use its networks to host customers while its own network gets built. But since AT&T doesn't operate a CDMA network of its own, Dish executives fear that the sudden shutdown will disproportionately affect poorer customers across the U.S.

"Our projections show a material amount of customers on Jan. 1 will lose their service, and again this is the most economically challenged group in America, so I think it's even more important that these people don't lose our service," Ergen said.

Still, T-Mobile claims that Dish is "dragging their feet" on making changes that would benefit its customers. "As we prepare to sunset the legacy Sprint CDMA network next year and move customers onto a network that will provide dramatically better connectivity and 911 services (and a variety of other customer benefits), Dish has not done nearly enough to upgrade its Boost CDMA customers," Sievert wrote. "I find this both disappointing and unacceptable, and frankly, so should Boost customers."

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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