If your phone, car, or home alarm relies on 3G, you need to be prepared for a shutdown |

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JON HEALEY Los Angeles Times

Cellphone companies’ 5G networks are bringing more speed and innovation to consumers, but there’s at least one trade-off: To open the airwaves for 5G, companies are shutting down old networks that many devices and services still use. .

These older 3G networks were heralded as a breakthrough in bandwidth and connectivity when they debuted in the United States in 2002. Although 3G (short for Third Generation) began to give way to 4G a decade later, networks are still the backbone of older mobiles. phones and a host of other devices.

In particular, 3G was the network of choice for devices that communicated with other devices over the Internet, including some fire and burglar alarms, roadside assistance services, and personal medical alert devices. And 3G has remained in use because the costs are low. Daniel Oppenheim, managing director of alarm and security monitoring firm Affiliated Monitoring, said the components needed to connect to 4G networks were too large and expensive for many devices until recently, which is why the 3G-only hardware continued to be widely used until a few years ago.

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Yet it was no secret that 3G would eventually be rendered obsolete by newer and more efficient technology capable of transmitting much more data. AT&T notified its business customers in February 2019 that it would shut down its 3G network within three years, forcing them and their suppliers and consumers to upgrade their equipment.

AT&T, which operates one of the two most extensive 3G networks in the country, has since set a firm date for the shutdown: February 22. Verizon, which operates the other, plans to shut down its 3G system by the end of the year. T-Mobile plans to disconnect the 3G networks it operates, including the one built by Sprint, between March 31 and July 1.

The Alarm Industry Communications Committee, a trade association representing companies like Oppenheim, has asked the Federal Communications Commission to delay the shutdown of 3G until the end of the year, arguing that disruptions caused by COVID-19 prevented its members from upgrading about 2 million consumers. ‘ equipment. Even if the date is postponed, the end of 3G is approaching. Here’s what the shutdown could mean for you and what you need to do now to prepare.

Who and what will be affected?

The most obvious victims of the 3G shutdown will be older phones, tablets and smartwatches that rely on 3G to connect to a mobile network. Most of these devices have already been consigned to history’s recycling bin; To see if your device can survive the AT&T 3G Sunset, check the list AT&T has posted online. If it’s not on the list, you have a problem.

Other carriers face similar issues. Verizon doesn’t offer a full list of compatible devices, but has released examples of popular phones, tablets, and other gear that will lose connectivity. T-Mobile has not released any detailed information about the device; instead, he pledged to contact every customer who will be affected by the shutdown.

Keep in mind that a 3G device with Wi-Fi can still run its apps and do pretty much everything you need to, but only if you’re within range of an open Wi-Fi network and it doesn’t. you don’t mind making phone calls through a Voice over Internet Protocol service such as Skype. In other words, your 3G phone or tablet will still work, but it won’t be as mobile.

US consumers replace their smartphones every three years or less on average, suggesting that relatively few 3G phones are still in use. However, the lifecycle is much longer for other 3G devices, including alarm and security systems that call first responders in the event of a break-in, fire, carbon monoxide leak, or personal medical emergency.

If these devices or services fail due to lack of network connection, the consequences could be tragic. Oppenheim said the companies involved had been trying to replace their customers’ 3G-only equipment for some time, but their efforts had been hampered in multiple ways by the pandemic. COVID-19 has reduced the supply of replacement components and hampered efforts to install them, he said, in part because some customers didn’t want workers in their homes.

As a result, he said, 10-15% of those customers are not ready to leave 3G. Either their service provider hasn’t been able to upgrade their equipment yet, Oppenheim said, or the customer hasn’t responded to notices sent to them about the impending problem.

Here’s another problem with long product lifecycles: many cars can call for help automatically after an accident or connect to a call center at the touch of a button, thanks to a built-in cellular modem. But part of the modems in these cars only connect to 3G networks.

The most critical of these services is Automatic Collision Notification, which calls emergency services immediately after a collision severe enough to cause the airbags to deploy. This is especially useful when the driver is knocked out or incapacitated and there is no one else to help. Consumer Reports compiled a list last month of vehicles that will be affected; according to the magazine, “some vehicles just need a software or hardware upgrade, but others – including vehicles from Chrysler, Dodge, Hyundai, Jeep, Lexus, Nissan, Ram and Toyota – will lose their permanently”.

One example is BMW, which says around 1 million cars of model years 2018 and up will be affected. Jay L. Hanson, a spokesman for the automaker, said some of those vehicles will be eligible for a free upgrade, and those owners have been contacted by the company. For the rest, the ConnectedDrive and BMW Assist services that come with the car will simply no longer work.

Another example is in the trucking industry, which relies on electronic logging devices to comply with driver safety rules and to facilitate container tracking. Replacing all 3G-dependent devices is a big, time-consuming job that has been complicated by the intense demand for trucking services and the prolonged shortage of microchips.

This is only a partial list. Any device over a few years old that connects wirelessly and directly to the Internet may need a software update or replacement of its cellular modem to continue connecting after 3G has been discontinued. An example is the alcohol control ankle bracelet worn by some offenders to ensure that they will not drink again after their release.

Why does this happen?

Cellular networks transmit data over microwaves leased from the federal government. Although 3G and 5G use different technologies to send and receive data, they operate on some of the same frequencies. But according to AT&T, they can’t coexist on those frequencies — the airwaves assigned to 3G customers can’t also be used for 5G customers.

AT&T told the FCC in August that serving even a single 3G user would require the company to reserve a significant portion of its airwaves in the 850 megahertz band, although 3G customers collectively only use 4 % of AT&T’s 3G network capacity. Turning off 3G will allow the company to double the number of 850 MHz airwaves devoted to 5G, the company told the FCC in October, significantly improving its service to those customers.

What do you need to do?

In most cases, devices that rely on 3G chips provide paid services, whether it’s the ability to make calls or automatically call first responders. So, the companies selling these services have already reached out to their customers to help them maintain their services.

In other words, if you’re concerned, you’ve probably already received a letter or email (and possibly several of them) telling you what the problem is and what your options are. If you haven’t answered yet, it’s a good idea to do so now.

Considering the amount of junk mail and spam we all receive these days, you may have dismissed these communications without thinking twice. So if you have a mobile phone, smart watch, tablet, medical alert device or car that is over 3 or 4 years old, or have alarm service, check with your phone company , service provider or device manufacturer to see if you are affected and, if so, what your options are.

There is a lot of information online. Start with your cell phone company’s 3G page — here are the links for AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — and work from there. The most useful resource for phone, tablet, and watch compatibility seems to be the list compiled by AT&T.

Many companies that sell alarm systems and monitoring services are warning that they won’t be able to upgrade all of their 3G-dependent equipment by the time AT&T shuts down its 3G network this month. FCC still reviewing alarm industry petition for delay; you may make your views known through the agency’s electronic filing system, citing File No. 21-304. If you think the cut is coming too soon, you can urge your representatives in the United States House or Senate to intervene.

How much will it cost you?

An AT&T spokesperson said “a large majority of customers” will be able to get a free replacement phone for their 3G device. The company also offers 5G phones starting at $72.

T-Mobile says Sprint 3G network customers will be able to upgrade to a new device that will work on T-Mobile’s 4G and 5G networks “at no cost.”

People with prepaid phone services, however, are in another boat. Mobile phone companies don’t usually offer free phones with their no-contract services, so anyone with a 3G phone will need to purchase a new one for prepaid services, such as Verizon-owned Straight Talk Wireless.

If you have a 3G-dependent tablet or smartwatch, it looks like you’ll need to buy a spare if you want to continue connecting over the cellular network instead of Wi-Fi. None of the carrier websites offered free replacements on that front.

Regarding alarm systems and medical alert devices, Oppenheim said it was the service provider’s responsibility to upgrade equipment to accommodate changing networks – ” by the way, at a huge cost to the company, not to the consumer”. It’s analogous to cable TV service, where the cable company is responsible for fixing any problems with their set-top boxes, he said.

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