Medical, Home Alarm Industries Warn Of Major Outages As AT&T Shuts Down 3G Network

from the alarm-o-pocalypse dept

It was only 2009 that AT&T heralded its cutting edge 3G network as it unveiled the launch of the iPhone (which subsequently crashed AT&T’s cutting edge 3G network). Fast forward a little more than a decade and AT&T is preparing to shut that 3G network down, largely so it can repurpose the spectrum it utilizes for fifth-generation (5G) wireless deployments. While the number of actual wireless phone users still using this network is minimal, the network is still being heavily used as a connectivity option for some older medical devices and home alarm systems.

As such, the home security industry is urging regulators to delay the shutdown to give them some more time to migrate home security users on to other networks:

“The Alarm Industry Communications Committee said in a filing posted Friday by the FCC that more time is needed to work out details. A delay of at least 60 to 70 days could help some customers who have relied on AT&T?s 3G network, although arrangements remain to be negotiated, the group said.

?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 commission was able to broker a possible solution but inadequate time exists to implement that solution,? the group said.

If you recall, part of the T-Mobile Sprint merger conditions involved trying to make a viable fourth wireless carrier out of Dish Network (that’s generally not going all that well). T-Mobile’s ongoing feud with Dish has resulted in T-Mobile keeping its 3G network alive a bit longer than AT&T. So the alarm industry is asking both the FCC and AT&T for a little more time, as well as some help migrating existing home security gear temporarily on to T-Mobile’s 3G network so things don’t fall apart when AT&T shuts down its 3G network (currently scheduled for February 22).

AT&T gave companies whose technology still use 3G three full years to migrate to alternative solutions. And it’s not entirely clear how many companies, services, and industries will be impacted by the shut down. But there’s an awful lot of different companies and technologies that still use 3G for internet connectivity, including a lot of fairly important medical alert systems. Nobody seems to actually know how prepared we truly are, so experts suggest the problems could range anywhere from mildly annoying to significantly disruptive:

Again, this is all something that could have been avoided if we placed a little less priority on freaking out about various superficial issues and a put a little more attention on nuanced, boring policy issues that actually matter.

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Comments on “Medical, Home Alarm Industries Warn Of Major Outages As AT&T Shuts Down 3G Network”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

It is not like no one knew this was coming, ATT has been talking about ending & pushing users off 3G for quite a long time.

One does wonder how much of this was corporations feeling that ATT would NEVER EVER do it to them because they are to important to take a smaller bonus for having to upgrade their technologies.
We’ll tell law makers horror stories about how people will have fallen & not been able to get up but no one could hear them because ATT turned off the spectrum they told us for years they would turn off but we saved money not upgrading & how dare they do what they told us they were going to do!

We are to important to have this done to us!

I mean I could feel bad if there was a container of 4g medic alert things stuck on a ship, and could see an extension being fair…
But I’m willing to be there haven’t even created designs for 4g based replacements yet let alone found the cheapest supplier to make them.

It is a pity that despite seeing these same stupid panics happen over & over no ones bothered to ask how the fsck did they happen again?
Ooooh 5G will take down planes!!! But we’ve done no testing despite knowing it was coming for a very long time.
Ooooh 3G going away will kill all the old people, let criminals wander free, lock up cars of poor people paying way to much for transportation…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The Three years was never the issue. Rather the alarm companies are claiming the pandemic means they need an extension to finish the transition. By the alarm company’s petition.

"AT&T notified the alarm industry on or about February 2019 that it planned to
shut down its 3G service in February 2022. This notice gave alarm carriers and
manufacturers approximately three years to develop, produce and distribute replacement radios, and install these replacements at protected premises – a daunting task at any time, but at least plausible. In that regard, AICC does not question AT&T’s efforts to give the alarm industry good faith notice and cooperation toward accomplishing its 3G transition."

The industry has developed transition devices, most notably something called cellbounce, and has been placing them in the field. But that between the pandemic and the chip shortage, they wont be able to adjust all devices in time.

Whether that is warranted or not, I dont know, but nobody, not even ATT, is claiming the alarm industry was just sitting on its butts.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Seems to me that AT&T gave sufficient notice to allow these companies to switch networks or switch to newer cel hardware and replace/upgrade existing equipment. So now the companies want more time, despite having not bothered to use the 3 years they were given? The best thing the FCC and AT&T could do is deny the request with a note that these companies should have thought of that 3 years ago when they were told about the shutdown.

"A failure to plan (on your part) does not constitute an emergency (on my part)."

Mononymous Tim (profile) says:

Re: It's not just about the companies

So what happens when your loved one, who had no control over how their health monitor connected and wasn’t even aware this was happening, dies because of this? And your garage gets emptied tonight while you’re sleeping.

Oh, that’s right: "A failure to plan (on your part) does not constitute an emergency (on my part)." It may be that neither company did anything about it until now, but no amount of suing can get your grandma or personal belongings back.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: Re: It's not just about the companies

Well, if I had any living relatives that needed a health monitor, then about 2 years ago (after a year of knowing about the issue myself and not having heard anything from the monitor company) I would’ve been calling the company responsible for the monitor asking what their plans were and by when should I expect her to be slated for an update or replacement. At the 1-year-to-go mark, I would’ve been talking to their doctor and their insurance about replacing the soon-to-be-nonfunctional device. Said talks with the insurance would’ve also involved the family’s lawyer, which I’ve noticed gets the attention of insurance companies.

As for my garage, if someone broke into it the alarm would go off and the alarm company would’ve been notified. This may not be the same alarm company anymore, because again about 2 years ago I would’ve been talking to them about their plans and if I didn’t hear a definite date for equipment upgrade/replacement I’d be changing to a different alarm company that didn’t depend on a 3G network. My alarm system would have been made unaffected by the shutdown at least a year ago.

Planning ahead. It works.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"A failure to plan (on your part) does not constitute an emergency (on my part)."

My personal favorite:

Failing to plan is exactly the same as planning to fail.

My solution, as a preventative measure against this kind of thing happening again? If I were in charge, I’d formally suspend trading of any public company that pulled such a stunt. They very obviously did it for the money, a short-term gain at the potential expense of lost lives and property. A monetary penalty of this nature just might be sufficient to deter doing it again, because it’s all too obvious that a one-time fine won’t accomplish the mission.

Oh, and if they say they need only 60-70 days, you can take it to the bank that they’ll be asking for more extensions beyond that period. Shall we start a pool as to how often they "go back to the well," before they finally get the job done?

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Which is exactly the point – a publicly traded company answers to the stockholders. If they act like they don’t care about what the stockholders think, then how long do you suppose they’ll be trading publicly? Tell us, if you held stock in a company that pulled this kind of stunt, would you keep your money there, or would you sell your stake and move on to something more likely to succeed without screaming, wailing and gnashing their teeth, all because they were short-sighted?

But more important is the fact that while trading is suspended, not only can one not sell his/her stock, but no one can buy it either. That can ham-string a company at a critical time. And don’t think that stockholders, current or potential, won’t pay attention to that kind of thing. It’s in their nature to do so, less they loose their investment all the more foolishly.

Oh, wait… were you thinking in terms of the individual investor, the guy who puts in between 10,000 and 100,000 bucks? No, my friend, I’m talking about the institutional investors, the ones with more money to invest than the value of all small-cap and many medium-cap corporations. Those are the people who will pull up stakes as soon as trading resumes, and trust me, that kind of sell-off is not something from which a company can easily recover.

Dan Neely (profile) says:

If there are major companies still transitioning from 3g to 4g that had reasonable migration plans in place that were significantly delayed by pandemic related issues and a short delay would allow them to complete their transition I’d be willing to let them have it.

Companies who were either willfully blind, or chose not to do anything in the mistaken assumption that the carriers would continue to delay their legacy network shutdowns indefinitely OTOH are probably screwed unless they can beg a multi-year delay out of regulators. They can go bankrupt and have their customers switch to competent competitors.

tom (profile) says:

When major US agencies, think FAA, don’t pay attention to turn on, turn off tech notices, why should we expect private companies to react differently?

Add to the list of possibly impacted gizmos – cell connected game cameras.

I recently looked for a replacement phone for my father who was on a 3G AT&T flip phone. Many of the ‘new’ flip phones being offered were still only 3g. Then unexpectedly, a package arrived from AT&T that had a free new 4G flip phone and service transfer instructions.

Time for the FCC to issue a ‘4G Life Cycle Schedule’ similar to a Microsoft OS life cycle announcement. List a Last Date a new 4G gizmo can be legally sold. Allow a several year warranty period after that. Forbid any turn off of 4G towers until several years after the expiration of the final warranty period. Minimum 4G life cycle should probably be at least 20 years. If the 3G shutdown is bad, the future 4G shutdown will be worse. Almost every car being sold is connected and cars often last 20+ years.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well yeah, AT&T itself was selling phones 3 years ago which are perfectly VOLTE-capable (or "HD Voice", as AT&T calls it), but refuse to "support" those phones today. They are simply blacklisting devices on their networks, some of which have and AT&T-branded counterpart which is supported, but for no technical reasons. And incredibly, sometimes the opposite is true.

Not surprising they are still selling 3G (and "unsupported" 4G) phones. AT&T is a pit of assholes.

No reflection on other sectors not preparing for a 3G phaseout. Strictly in reference to 3G phones still being in stock. They just want their cut from selling you hardware, 3 or more times if they can.

TheSiegeTech says:

3G Sunset

I’m a licensed fire and security alarm tech. We rolled out notifications to ALL of our affected customers with AT&T and Verizon provisioned units. The fire alarm customers had no choice but to upgrade, the security side was less responsive.

I can only speak for the company I work for, but we did our best to make everyone aware of what would happen, when, and why it was going to happen. I imagine other alarm companies did the same things; we don’t lease systems so we charge for the hardware upgrade and tech time to install. Still, same things happened when CDMA was phased out.

morganwick (profile) says:

So the alarm industry is asking both the FCC and AT&T for a little more time, as well as some help migrating existing home security gear temporarily on to T-Mobile’s 3G network so things don’t fall apart when AT&T shuts down its 3G network (currently scheduled for February 22).

date of post: February 23

Man, Techdirt is such a great resource for staying on the cutting edge of tech policy news.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

In fairness to morganwick, the phrasing in the article reads like February 22 is in the future, which does make it a little weird to see the article show up after the scheduled shutdown date. That could have been avoided by rephrasing it to either use past tense, or make it clear that the article was written days ahead and may not have been updated for any last minute reprieve.

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