3G network shutdown won’t just affect phones

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With AT&T Shutting down the 3G network next week, and other operators following suit later this year, a range of products are set to stop working, including some home alarm systems, medical devices such as detectors fall protection, and car crash notification and roadside assistance systems such as General Motors’ OnStar.

Just as many mobile carriers have urged customers to trade in their old 3G iPhones, Android phones, e-readers and other portable devices devices for new models before shutdown, other companies are urging customers to upgrade or replace some of the everyday products and services in their homes and cars before they lose connectivity.
Left unchecked, the stakes could be high in some cases. Millions of cars, for example, may no longer be able to contact first responders after a collision or receive updates such as location or traffic alerts for built-in GPS systems. Certain vehicles, including Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac, have software upgrades for drivers to connect their systems to a 4G network, but other models would have lose this feature for good.

The introduction of 3G in 2002 allowed some of the first car infotainment systems and home security services – pioneers in the smart home field – to connect to networks. But over time, wireless companies have moved to 4G and more recently 5G networks.

Now, major carriers are phasing out 3G technology in the United States and certain overseas markets. AT&T (J)which owns CNN’s parent company, shuts it down on Feb. 22; T-Mobile (TMUS) does so in the third trimester; and Verizon (VZ) will complete this milestone by the end of the year. As the technology officially becomes obsolete, a rush is underway to help consumers avoid disruption.

What companies are doing about it

Some industries are better equipped to handle change. Many home security companies, for example, have migrated their subscriber bases from 3G to 4G over the past two years. “From the most recent industry discussions I’ve been involved in, it seems like most of the U.S. home security dealers have migrated 100% or very close to 100% of their subscribers, which is no longer on most vendors’ to-do lists,” said Jack Narcotta, Principal Industry Analyst at Strategy Analytics.

He said the home security industry’s effort to switch to 4G wasn’t too complicated as it simply involved a technician installing a box or panel for a newer model. Some companies like ADT have also invested additional resources in the transition. In 2020, the home security company acquired Cellbounce, which makes a device that converts 3G signals to 4G for AT&T’s network.
Security companies, such as My Alarm Center, made it clear in their messages to customers that replacement units were also needed before the shutdown. “Even if your alarm appears to be working, it will no longer communicate with our central service station to let us know that emergency services are needed,” My Alarm Center states on its website.

But even with these efforts, some customers and systems will likely be left behind, and not just home security and car assistance services.

“A few million connected devices in the smart home space still need to be replaced, including my meter for my solar panels,” said Roger Entner, analyst and founder of Recon Analytics. “Some companies have started contacting their customers in the past 2 years to let them know that the service will soon stop, but 6 months ago, many products still haven’t had time to replace them. “

The automotive industry is rather in a gray area. In addition to software upgrades, some automakers are offering consumers newer parts to add to existing technologies to make them work on 4G. But some offer no accommodation. This is compounded by the fact that consumers are probably less aware of the network used by their car systems than the network used by their phones.

“A lot of people are going to be surprised,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Guidehouse Insights, a market research firm focused on emerging technologies. “But if they are currently paying subscribers to a connectivity service, they have most certainly been notified at this point.”

What can you do about it

Typically, most cars built in the past five years with connectivity use 4G modems, according to Abuelsamid. Anyone unsure if their vehicle will lose connectivity can call their local dealership for more information.

If the car uses 3G, Abuelsamid recommends customers ask the manufacturer if there is an upgrade program and, if not, contact the carriers, who can provide an adapter with a modem that can be plugged into a vehicle.

For those unsure if their home alarm system works on 3G, the security company likely has an FAQ page on their website with a list of affected model numbers. Customers can also call the company directly to request and arrange next steps.

Ultimately, it’s much easier to replace some things that work on 3G than others. “It’s easier to replace a 3G e-reader if you want to keep cellular connectivity than it is to replace a car system, so some people have an expensive decision to make if they want to keep their old car connected to cellular,” Bill said. . Menezes, director of market research firm Gartner.

Future disruptions

This isn’t the first time a network has been taken down and it won’t be the last. The 3G shutdown is primarily to reuse spectrum for 4G and 5G, which are newer standards, better technologies and more efficient. The same thing happened with 2G, which AT&T and Verizon shut down towards the end of 2017; T-Mobile plans to shut down its 2G network in December.

Last month, AT&T and Verizon activated 5G C-band networks, an important set of higher radio frequencies that will supercharge the internet. The change will allow users, for example, to stream a Netflix movie in 4K resolution or download a movie in seconds. (Verizon said its C-band speeds reach nearly a gigabyte per second, about 10 times faster than 4G LTE.)

In the world of home security, 5G would provide the ability to broadcast high-definition video or interactive mapping with motion detection so that an alarm company could see where on a 3D map an alarm has gone off and track anything moving in the area. What’s more, 4G enables more sophisticated features, such as the ability to communicate faster with alarm companies and share rich photos and videos over the network.

For those worried that 4G home appliances will be phased out, don’t be. Dimitris Mavrakis, senior director at market research firm ABI Research, said the shutdown of 4G networks won’t happen anytime soon, noting that “other generations will likely remain in the market for a very long time.” Because 2G introduced mobile voice and 4G introduced mobile broadband, he calls 3G “somewhere in between” and “not ideal for voice or mobile broadband”.

“At the end of the day, 4G is much better than 3G,” he said. “That’s why it’s being phased out.”

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