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Industry Groups ask FCC to Delay AT&T 3G Discontinuation

February 24, 2022 by Reece Nations
Industry Groups ask FCC to Delay AT&T 3G Discontinuation
In this July 29, 2019, photo an AT&T logo sits above an entrance to a building in Boston, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

DALLAS — AT&T is willing to temporarily extend the lifespan of its 3G network after phasing it out for most mobile customers on Tuesday.

AT&T entered into an agreement with T-Mobile on Feb. 15 to utilize its roaming options to continue service to 3G customers until July 1, when T-Mobile will be discontinuing its own 3G networks. This agreement came days before AT&T was planning to shut down its 3G connectivity to customers on Feb. 22.

However, the Alarm Industry Communications Committee is warning of the consequences of AT&T and other mobile carriers deciding to discontinue 3G. AICC officials warned the Federal Communications Commission last week there wasn’t enough time to make arrangements and implement the logistics needed to keep devices running on 3G connectivity operational.

“AICC respectfully requests that the FCC issue an order directing AT&T to delay decommissioning its 3G network and services until there has been time for affected parties to take advantage of the roaming option that was just announced two days ago,” the organization wrote in its filing with the FCC. “Such extension should be for at least 60 to 70 days, at which time the [FCC] can determine if any further extension is needed.”

The network represented the third generation of wireless mobile communications technology and was first launched commercially in 2001, according to the International Telecommunication Union. AT&T’s shutdown of its 3G network is expected to impact older devices, such as flip phones, older generation Kindles, the iPhone 5 and older models and various Android devices.

The decision for the carrier to phase out its 3G network this week was made back in 2019 and currently less than 1% of its mobile data traffic runs on 3G networks, according to a company release. However, there are still many practical at-home devices using 3G that may need upgrading as a result of AT&T’s decision.

For instance, General Motors vehicles with OnStar that were released before 2015 may require a 4G modem upgrade from manufacturers. OnStar provides subscription-based communications within customers’ vehicles that can assist with navigation, hands-free calling and emergency roadside assistance.

Home security company My Alarm Center issued a notice to customers about the 3G sunset, warning them that while devices may appear to be operational they will require an onsite panel update in order to communicate with the company’s central service station. Without an upgrade, My Alarm Center customers will be unable to notify the company that emergency services are required.

“AICC requests the immediate issuance of an interim extension to allow this process to play out,” the organization continued in its filing with the FCC. “It would be tragic and illogical for the tens of millions of citizens being protected by 3G alarm radios and other devices to be put at risk of death or serious injury, when the [FCC] was able to broker a possible solution but inadequate time exists to implement that solution.”

Devices like fall detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, home security systems and other critical monitoring instruments will stop working should AT&T and other mobile carriers carry on with their plans to deactivate 3G networks later this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a part in preventing the alarm and personal monitoring industries from fully upgrading customers’ devices.

The microchips needed to manufacture the required 3G replacement radios have been difficult to obtain due to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions, and many service providers have been unable to enter customers’ homes until recently.

Further, the School Superintendents Association petitioned the FCC last week to request the FCC delay AT&T’s discontinuation of 3G service for at least six months.

“The nation’s public schools and the students they serve and transport daily continue to endure a pandemic that has upended their previous daily educational experience,” Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director for AASA, wrote in the FCC petition.

“As [National Association for Pupil Transportation] wrote in September, a confluence of events have negatively impacted the ability of school districts to fully update their transportation fleets, meaning their ability to track and manage their fleets [and maintain the safety of their students] will go dark in February of 2022,” she concluded.

Reece can be reached at reece@thewellnews.com.

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