Explainer: Will the burglar alarm work after the 3G shutdown?

As telecoms companies improve the latest generation of mobile services called 5G, they are shutting down old networks. What does this mean for you?

NEW YORK (AP) – As telecoms companies improve the latest generation of mobile services called 5G, they are shutting down old networks – an expensive process that has been going on for years and is now delayed because many products out there still rely on the old 3G standard.

It is planned that AT&T will be the first operator to close its 3G network on February 22. T-Mobile will close its 3G network by the summer and Verizon in December.

The home alarm industry has asked the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. regulator, to postpone the AT&T network until December. As spokeswoman Paloma Perez said Monday, the FCC is monitoring the phasing out of 3G and is working to “introduce security measures” for older phones and other devices.

Verizon has already postponed the shutdown – twice – from its original target date of 2019, saying customers need more time to upgrade their devices. T-Mobile has also postponed the termination of the Sprint 3G network, which it acquired in 2020, until the end of March; by July 1, the T-Mobile 3G network will be disconnected.

WHY IS 3G DISABLED?

First a little history. AT&T’s 3G network was launched in the United States in 2004; later in the same decade it was the exclusive carrier for early iPhones, which helped start the first phase of the smartphone era. The networks we currently rely on for streaming video, social apps, Uber and other must-have elements of the modern era mostly use the following 4G standard.

For operators, disabling 3G is a step in efficiency. When they upgrade to the latest technology, they shut down outdated networks and use the freed-up bandwidth for new – and what they hope will be more profitable – services.

WHAT IF I HAVE AN OLD PHONE?

People with older phones that are not compatible with 4G will have to upgrade; once 3G is turned off, these phones will not work for calls and text messages. AT&T says it has offered its customers free replacements through letters, emails and texts. Spokesman Jim Greer said less than 1% of AT&T consumer devices, including phones, tablets and watches, would lose cellular services, but declined to say how many devices. The company reported 196 million phones and connected devices using its network in the last quarter.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER DEVICES?

Industry groups have also expressed concern about other products that will need to be replaced or upgraded – everything from home fire alarms to ankle bracelets used by law enforcement. Not sure how many obsolete products there are and how important it will be if updates happen after February 22nd.

The alarm industry and other companies say they have had problems replacing devices, although they have known for years about future outages. Recent failures include both supply chain problems caused by the pandemic and customers who are reluctant to let technicians into their homes during the pandemic.

HOW MANY OLD PRODUCTS ARE THERE?

This is not entirely clear. The lobby group for the alarm industry estimates that 1.5 million customers still need to update their fire or security alarms, while about half a million have medical alerts running on 3G; it says it relies most on AT&T services. While the offline fire alarm will still sound an alarm if there is smoke, it will not be able to contact the fire department. Also, burglar alarms will not be sent to emergency workers if it works. Not all suppliers say there is a problem. ADT said in November that it is on track to upgrade its AT&T customers by February; A spokesman declined to offer an update on Sunday.

AARP, an advocacy group for adults over the age of 50, is also concerned that users of medical alert systems – these necklaces and bracelets such as Life Alert – that connect users to emergency centers will not know their gadgets are no longer working or won’t be able to replace them in a timely manner.

HOW SHOULD I COOK?

Check your phone to make sure it will still work. Here is a list of AT&T devices that, according to the operator, will operate normally after February 22. Call the companies that manufacture or maintain your security and fire alarms and personal medical alert systems to find out if you need to update. If so, schedule a visit to the service immediately or deliver a new device.

OK, READY. WHY SHOULD I BE LIKE THAT?

Several. One of the manufacturers of ankle bracelets for people who are on parole or pre-trial, said it was unable to upgrade many 3G-dependent devices. Early discovery could potentially allow tens of thousands of offenders, such as child rapists, sex offenders and drunk drivers, to remain unattended until they are behind bars, the Alcohol Monitoring Systems wrote in August to the FCC. The company did not answer questions.

Zonar, a company that provides GPS and other services for buses and trucks, says it has affected tens of thousands of vehicles. Trucks that are not upgraded may have to stand still if drivers cannot electronically record watches as required by federal regulations. Zonar has a workaround for the trucking industry, but not all customers have placed orders for it, said Susan Corscadden, the company’s chief marketing officer.

Affected school districts may also lose the ability to track the location of school buses, while their drivers may not be able to use GPS systems for directions. The National School Transport Association backed the issue in a September statement, though Noel Ellerson Ng, in charge of the group’s legislative issues, said in an interview that she had not heard school principals raise the issue.

SO IS DISCONNECTION A SERIOUS THREAT TO PUBLIC SECURITY?

This is unclear. “There is a lot of uncertainty about the impact and number of people affected,” said Tom Cumber, executive director of Older Adults Technology Services, a nonprofit organization affiliated with AARP. The AARP has asked the FCC to postpone the shutdown of AT&T until December.

Public Knowledge, a public interest group, also called on the FCC to block the shutdown in February, when AT&T could not show that it was confident that basic services would not be disrupted or that it could resume work immediately if problems arose.

SO WHY NOT GREASE?

AT&T says delaying the shutdown will damage 5G deployments, impairing customers’ ability to use their services and accepting more drop calls. The company claims that alarm companies have had years to upgrade their customers ’devices. The company also says the FCC has no authority to stop its shutdown.

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