If your phone, car or home alarm is 3G based, you need to prepare for a shutdown

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

Those old 3G networks have been heralded as a revolutionary advance in terms of bandwidth and connectivity when they are debuted in the United States in 2002. Although 3G (short for third generation) began to give way to 4G a decade later, networks still provide the backbone for older cell phones and a host of other devices.

In particular, 3G was the preferred network 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 company Affiliated Monitoring, said the components needed to connect to 4G networks were too large and expensive for many devices until recently, which is why 3G-only hardware continued. to be used extensively until a couple of years ago.

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

AT&T, which operates one of the country’s two largest 3G networks, has since set the closing date: February 22. Verizon, which operates the other, plans to shut down its 3G system later this year. T-Mobile plans to pull the plug from 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 such as Oppenheim’s, did so asked the Federal Communications Commission to delay the 3G shutdown until the end of the year, claiming that outages caused by COVID-19 prevented its members from upgrading some 2 million consumer equipment. Even if the date is postponed, however, the end of 3G is on the way. Here’s what shutdown might mean for you and what you should do now to get ready.

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 delivered to the recycling bin of history; to see if your device can survive the sunset of AT&T 3G, check out the list that AT&T has published online. If it’s not listed, you have a problem.

Other carriers face similar problems. Verizon doesn’t offer a full list of compatible devices, but it has published examples of phones, tablets and other popular devices that will lose connectivity. T-Mobile has not published detailed information on the device; instead, he is committed to contact each customer who will be affected by the closure.

Keep in mind that a 3G device with Wi-Fi can still run its apps and do pretty much anything you need to do, but only if you’re within range of an open Wi-Fi network and don’t mind making phone calls through a service. voice-over-internet protocol 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 time three years or less on average, which suggests that relatively few 3G phones remain in use. The lifecycle is much longer for other 3G devices, however, 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 a lack of a network connection, the consequences could be tragic. Oppenheim said the companies involved have long been looking to replace their customers’ 3G-only equipment, but their efforts have been hampered in many ways by the pandemic. COVID-19 reduced the supply of replacement components and interfered with efforts to install them, he said, in part because some customers did not want workers to enter their homes.

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

Here’s another problem with long product life cycles: Many automobiles can call for help automatically after an accident or connect to a call center at the push of a button, thanks to a built-in cellular modem. But some of those car modems only connect to 3G networks.

The most crucial of these services is automatic accident notification, which calls emergency services immediately after a collision so severe that it causes the airbags to deploy. This is especially valuable when the driver is knocked out or incapacitated and there is no one else available to help. Consumer reports compiled a list last month of the affected vehicles; according to the magazine, “some vehicles only need a software or hardware update, but others, including vehicles Chrysler, dodge, Hyundai, jeep, Boiled, Nissan, RAMAnd Toyota – they will lose their connections permanently.

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

Another example is in the trucking industry, which relies on electronic recording devices to comply with driver safety rules and to help track containers. Replacing all 3G-based devices is a big and time-consuming job complicated 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 cellular modem replacement to continue connecting after 3G is shut down. One example is alcohol monitoring anklet worn by some offenders to make sure they no longer drink after being released.

Why is this happening?

Cellular networks transmit data over radio waves leased by the federal government. Although 3G and 5G use different technologies to send and receive data, they operate at some of the same frequencies. But according to AT&T, they cannot coexist on those frequencies: the radio waves assigned to 3G customers cannot be used for 5G customers as well.

AT&T he told the FCC in August that serving even a single 3G user would require the company to reserve a significant portion of its own radio waves in the 850 MHz banddespite the fact that 3G customers collectively use only 4% of AT & T’s 3G network capacity. Disabling 3G will allow the company to double the amount of 850 MHz radio waves dedicated to 5G, the company he told the FCC in Octobergreatly improving its service to those customers.

What do you have to do?

In most cases, devices that rely on 3G chips provide services that people have to pay for, be it the ability to make calls or automatically call first responders. So the companies that sell these services have already contacted their customers to help them keep their services going.

In other words, if you’re interested, you’ve probably already received a letter or email (and possibly many 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 it now.

Given the amount of junk and spam we receive all these days, you may have thrown those communications away without thinking twice. So, if you have a mobile phone, smartwatch, tablet, medical alert device, or car that’s over 3 or 4 years old, or have an alarm service, check with your phone company, service provider, or the manufacturer of the device to see if you will be affected and, if so, what your options are.

There is a lot of information online. Start with your mobile company’s 3G page – here are the links for AT&T, T Mobile Other Verizon – and work from there. The single most useful resource for the compatibility of phones, tablets and watches seems to be the list compiled by AT&T.

Numerous companies selling alarm systems and monitoring services warn that they will not be able to upgrade all of their 3G-dependent equipment before AT&T shuts down its 3G network this month. The FCC is still considering the alarm industry petition for a delay; you can make your opinions known through the electronic filing system of the agency, citing file no. 21-304. If you feel the cut is happening too soon, you can solicit your representatives in the United States home or senates weigh.

How much will this cost you?

An AT&T spokesperson said “a substantial 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 customers on the Sprint 3G network 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 on a different boat. Mobile phone companies typically don’t 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 those owned by Verizon Chat without wires.

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

Regarding alarm systems and medical alert devices, Oppenheim said it is the service provider’s responsibility to upgrade the equipment to adapt to changing networks, “by the way, at huge expense for the company, not the consumer.” . It is analogous to the cable TV service, in which the cable company is responsible for addressing any problems with its cable boxes, he said.