While plans to shut down its 3G services have been known for about three years, companies were still caught unprepared this week as AT&T started implementing its 3G sunsetting plans on Tuesday and cut off service.
Axios reported some immediate problems and application areas that could be the first to experience problems. For example, it noted that "roughly 2 million devices powering burglar intrusion systems, fire alarms and personal emergency alerts will go offline."
Others have warned of issues with connected cars. Consumer Reports found that while some vehicles would need a software or hardware upgrade, many vehicles that are just a few years old – including vehicles from Chrysler, Dodge, Hyundai, Jeep, Lexus, Nissan, Ram, and Toyota – will lose their connections permanently.
It noted that one particularly troubling offshoot of the service shutoff in vehicles is the loss of automatic crash notification, which alerts first responders after a crash. This feature often relies on 3G cellular networks to connect drivers with emergency services and share a vehicle’s location.
Additionally, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency issued a warning to its riders that over 650 NextMuni displays will no longer be able to display real-time Muni vehicle arrival predictions, and the push-to-talk buttons at shelters using 3G modems will also be inoperable.
Why 3G transitions are being delayed
Plans to replace 3G equipment to avoid problems got stalled in many organizations due to the impact of COVID, supply chain issues, and worker shortages. As we previously reported:
"There are fewer people to do the replacement work," said Andrew Rossington, Chief Product Officer at Teletrac Navman. With the current employment situation, the so-called "Great Resignation," organizations find that many skilled people are leaving their jobs, and it is harder to fill them.
"There is the supply chain issue," Rossington said. "Products are scarce." The chipsets needed in industrial-connected 4G and 5G devices are the same as those used in 4G and 5G mobile phones.
Some have sought help to address the delay caused by these problems. For example, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), The School Superintendents Association, and the National Association for Pupil Transportation wrote to the FCC earlier this month petitioning for emergency relief due to COVID-related delays in their sunset transition efforts.
In the petition, the association noted that on an average day, nearly 500,000 yellow school buses are providing transportation to and from schools for approximately 25 million elementary and secondary school students; these buses also transport another 3 to 5 million children every school day on activity and field trips. AASA estimates that between five to ten percent of all public-school buses across the country would lose GPS and communications service with the AT&T shutdown.
Additionally, it noted, "In normal times, AT&T’s deadline may have worked. 2020-2021, however, was anything but normal."
Other industries also filed last-minute pleas to stop the service cut-off. For instance, the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC), a committee of The Monitoring Association (TMA), as late as last Thursday, made an additional filing asking the FCC to put a hold on the AT&T service shutoff.
Temporary relief from the FCC
In general, the FCC has made clear it would not step in and delay the service shutdown. In particular, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel indicated during a news conference Friday that the agency is unlikely to force a delay.
However, AT&T, at the urging of the FCC, said it would use roaming options to bridge the transition. To that end, the company has initiated a roaming deal with T-Mobile. Businesses and organizations that currently use some AT&T 3G devices will be able to make use of the service, if they desire, for several more months until T-Mobile shutters its 3G offerings.