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3G shutdown - Fear of security system ‘alarmaggedon’ as AT&T 5G rollout sees network close

Harriet Sinclair,Oliver O'Connell
Tuesday 22 February 2022 20:29 GMT
AT&T Shuts Down Its 3G Network

AT&T has become the first mobile phone company to shut down its 3G network in the US - amid fears numerous devices will stop working once American mobile phone networks shift their focus to 4G and 5G signals.

Among the devices that will potentially be affected by the shutdown are crash alert and roadside assistance systems, burglar alarms, fire alarms, and home security systems.

And while some companies have announced plans to negate the effects of the 3G shutdown on their devices (through either free or paid upgrades to their tech), others have yet to roll out detailed plans for device upgrades.

Amid concerns over various devices being disrupted by AT&T’s shutdown, the US home alarm industry and AARP, a major charity advocating for Americans over 50 years old, have both asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to delay AT&T’s network shutdown until December.

“Any interruption of these services places individuals and families at risk, and AARP believes that disruptions in any telecommunications service due to technology transition are unacceptable,” AARP’s petition said.


AT&T closes 3G network

Millions of burglar alarms, car safety systems, GPS trackers, medical monitors, and even prisoner ankle tags could stop working when American 3G mobile networks shut down this year - beginning with AT&T on Tuesday.

Io Dodds has the full story

3G network shutdown could disable millions of burglar alarms and car safety systems

Devices ranging from prisoner ankle tags through GPS systems to medical alert bracelets could all be left marooned, experts have warned

Harriet Sinclair22 February 2022 14:40

Other networks will follow AT&T’s decision soon

While AT&T’s network is scheduled to shut down today, it’s only the first network to do so.

T-Mobile’s 3G network will shut down by the summer and Verizon’s in December 2022.

After that, older phones that run on 3G will likely no longer work. Some companies are offering their remaining 3G customers free 4G phones as replacements.

Oliver O'Connell22 February 2022 14:55

Worries about car safety systems

Experts have warned that millions of “internet of things” devices, including safety devices installed in a wide range of cars, will be harder to replace than phone handsets.

In some cases, customers may have to pay through the nose to upgrade their devices, or make the difficult choice between upgrading to a newer model or continuing to use their old one with key features missing.

“What a mess,” wrote William Wallace, manager of safety policy at Consumer Reports, last month. “Wireless carriers, federal regulators, and some automakers seem content to leave people out to dry, even if it means they lose access to potentially lifesaving technology.

“Every automaker should deliver to its customers the services they’ve been promised – without charging them extra – and lawmakers should get ahead of the game to keep this from ever happening again in the future.”

The list of affected devices is long, starting with car crash alert and roadside assistance systems such as General Motors’ OnStar. These devices are built into many cars and automatically contact emergency services or receive traffic updates.

Oliver O'Connell22 February 2022 15:20

Challenges for medical alert industry

AT&T announced the shutdown date in 2019, with the intention of giving companies years to prepare, but some industries have still found it challenging given the disruption of the pandemic. the transition is happening during a particularly tumultuous time that’s complicated upgrades for medical alert firms.

CNBC reports that it has been a complicated process for medical alert firms.

The pandemic isolated its elderly customer base more than ever, frequent scams and robocalls have put them on edge for accepting claims of free new devices, and supply chain disruptions have complicated the acquisition of new equipment.

A group representing the medical alert companies petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for more time to prepare amid the challenges, but AT&T’s date remained in place, ahead of its peers’. Medical alert executives told CNBC most of the industry runs on AT&T, which means the Feb. 22 deadline for that carrier affects a broad proportion of the devices in use.

While it’s difficult to pin down the number of devices that could be left disconnected after Tuesday’s shutdown, the Alarm Industry Communications Committee, the lobbying arm of a professional monitoring industry group, found in a survey of its members that about 2 million security, fire and medical alert devices remained on 3G, including hundreds of thousands of people with personal emergency response devices.

Oliver O'Connell22 February 2022 15:45

AARP pushed for delay

AARP, which focuses on the interests of people over the age of 50 and has 38 million members, has called for a delay.

The organisation explained to members:

Jettisoning 3G doesn’t affect just phones. Certain medical devices, tablets, smartwatches, in-car SOS services, Kindle readers, home security products, and other devices also are dependent on 3G.

In August, citing COVID-19, AARP filed “comments” before the FCC in support of an Alarm Industry Communications Committee petition to have AT&T delay its 3G shutdown until the end of 2022, since members have alarm monitoring and emergency response systems that use 3G.

“Any interruption of these services places individuals and families at risk, and AARP believes that disruptions in any telecommunications service due to technology transition are unacceptable,” the comments read. “If AT&T were to voluntarily extend the retirement date for its 3G services until December 31, 2022, and also continue to maintain reliable 3G facilities until that retirement date, it appears to AARP that the risks facing consumers will be mitigated.”

AT&T’s response to the FCC last year indicated that any delay in turning off its 3G service would hinder its expansion of 5G mobile network coverage, and the FCC has not acted to stop the company. As of the end of 2020, about 5 percent of AT&T’s postpaid subscribers were using 3G handheld devices, according to AT&T.

Verizon says less than 1 percent of its customers are still accessing its 3G network. Telecom analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics in Dedham, Massachusetts, estimates 5 million to 10 million people in the U.S. still use 3G phones.

Oliver O'Connell22 February 2022 16:10

Why is the 3G shutdown happening?

AT&T’s 3G network launched in the US in 2004; later that decade it was the exclusive carrier for early iPhones, helping usher in the first phase of the smartphone era. The networks we currently rely on for video streaming, social apps, Uber and other must-haves of the modern era mostly use the subsequent 4G standard.

For the carriers, shutting down 3G is an efficiency move. As they upgrade to the latest technology, they shut off outdated networks and use the freed-up bandwidth for newer — and what they hope will be more profitable — services.


Oliver O'Connell22 February 2022 16:30

What to do if you have an older device

People with older phones that aren’t compatible with 4G will have to upgrade; once 3G shuts down, those phones won’t work for calls or texting. AT&T says it has reached out to offer its customers free replacements via letters, emails and texts. Spokesperson Jim Greer said fewer than one per cent of AT&T’s consumer devices, including phones, tablets and watches, will lose cellular service, but declined to say how many devices that is. The company reported about 196 million phones and connected devices using its network in the most recent quarter.

Check your phone to make sure it will still work. Here’s an AT&T list of devices that the carrier says will work normally after 22 February. Call the companies that make or service your burglar and fire alarms and personal medical alert systems to see if any need an update. If so, schedule a service visit immediately or get a new device shipped.


Oliver O'Connell22 February 2022 16:45

Manufacturers sending out reminders to customer

Equipment manufacturer Comrex has reminded users of some of its products that they need to update the firmware as 3G is shut off.

Oliver O'Connell22 February 2022 17:02

Fears of ‘Alarmaggedon’ as 3G goes dark

A group representing the alarm industry claims approximately 2 million devices linked to burglar alarms, fire alarms, and personal emergency alerts could go offline.

The Alarm Industry Communications Committee said the pandemic has been a big challenge, preventing engineers from upgrading systems at a time when supply chains have been stretched.

The group asked the Federal Communications Commission to force AT&T to delay its plans, but the FCC has not acted on the group’s request.

Committee spokesperson John Brady told Axios the industry has taken its concerns to the White House, which intervened in a dispute between AT&T and Verizon and the airline industry over 5G signals last month.

“I basically told the White House that you were worried about planes falling out of the sky. How about people dying in their homes? Because that’s what’s going to happen,” said Mr Brady, who is also COO of Connect America, which provides personal alert devices.

“They’re going to think that their device works, they’re going to hit the button, and it’s not going to go anywhere.”

Harold Feld, senior vice president of tech policy group Public Knowledge, told the outlet: “We are heading to alarmaggedon.”

“If you roll the dice, maybe nobody has a problem in the first day or the second day or the third day,” Mr Feld said. “But eventually someone’s going to have a problem where they will need that alarm.”

The White House told Axios the administration is “closely tracking carriers’ 3G transition plans and shares concerns about the potential impact of these plans on the function of home security and medical alert devices”.

Oliver O'Connell22 February 2022 17:23

How do I know if I have a 3G phone?

The 3G network is being shut off in the US – and your phone might be, too.

Many devices that are not able to make use of the replacement signals will become useless after the switch-off happens.

AT&T is already beginning the process. Verizon will do so by the end of the year, and T-Mobile will be done by the summer; other networks run their service through those providers’ networks, meaning they will be affected too.

Thankfully, checking whether your phone is affected is relatively easy. There are many ways to check.

Andrew Griffin explains.

Your phone could be about to stop working. Here’s how to check

The 3G network is being shut off in the US – and your phone might be, too.

Oliver O'Connell22 February 2022 17:52

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