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AT&T 5G Upgrade Risks Silencing Home Alarms Reliant On Old Tech

AT&T Inc.’s plan to shut down an old wireless network is prompting dire warnings that some medical alerts may stop working, burglar alarm systems could fail and ankle bracelets might stop tracking felons. AT&T 5G Upgrade Risks Silencing Home Alarms Reliant On Old Tech

Security-device makers are asking federal regulators to delay the company’s plans to pull the plug on its 3G network in February to make way for faster 5G service. The company says it gave industries that rely on the older signals three years’ notice.

The Alarm Industry Communications Committee, an industry group, has asked the Federal Communications Commission to order AT&T to delay the shutdown until the end of 2022. Some companies say the pandemic has hampered their ability to upgrade equipment.


“There will be hundreds of thousands if not millions of devices sending their emergency signals into the ether,” Daniel Oppenheim, a spokesman for the committee, said in an interview.

AT&T, which is in a race with rival mobile providers to seize the rich 5G market, says it has waited long enough and asked the FCC to deny the request.

“Forcing a delay would needlessly waste valuable spectrum resources and degrade network performance for millions of our customers,” Margaret Boles, an AT&T spokeswoman, said in an email. Delay in order to serve “relatively few, obsolete” devices would undermine the evolution to 5G, she said.

AT&T in filings said it has given industries that rely on the older network sufficient time to adjust by replacing equipment to ensure systems will work with newer networks.

ADT Corp., the security system industry leader, said it had about 2.9 million alarms that needed replacing and had winnowed that number to about 800,000. ADT Chief Executive Officer Jim DeVries in February said the company was “on track” to complete the conversions.

In its FCC filings, the alarm industry said it can’t prepare in time, even though AT&T gave notice of the shutdown in February 2019.

Beginning last year, homeowners and businesses mindful of the Covid-19 pandemic have been reluctant to grant workers entry to convert their alarms, the alarm industry group said in its FCC petition. The widespread shortages of computer chips delayed the arrival of the needed replacement devices, they said.

“The requested relief is necessary to avoid the harmful, even deadly, impact this sunset would have on tens of millions of people,” the Alarm Industry Communications Committee said in its petition to the FCC. “Lives will very likely be lost (including many elderly lives) if connectivity is lost.”

AT&T cast doubt on claims of a Covid slowdown. Home-security companies have said that after an initial two-month pause,“the Covid pandemic has not kept technicians out of people’s homes. If anything, they say, the pandemic accelerated the pace of new alarm system installations,” AT&T said in a filing.

Oppenheim said that while new customers may be eager, it can be hard to get a response from established clients who don’t realize they need to act.

The industry’s petition has picked up support from a number of organizations including AARP, a group that works on behalf of older people. It cited potential risk from an interruption of service to people who wear medical alerts in the form of pendants or wristbands.

Drunken Driver Monitors

Closely held Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc., a company based in Littleton, Colorado that helps authorities track offenders, warned the FCC against letting ankle bracelets and other tracking devices lose connectivity. It said local governments rely on legacy 3G monitoring solutions to deal with domestic abusers, sex offenders, drunk drivers, and other felony-level offenders.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation cited “potentially significant impacts for vehicles” that use 3G for services that include automatic collision notification, roadside assistance, navigation and real-time traffic information. The group represents manufacturers producing nearly 99% of cars and light trucks sold in the U.S.

The dispute echoes another controversy about a change to accommodate 5G. Dish Network Corp. has objected to T-Mobile US Inc.’s plan to shut a network in January used by Dish’s Boost Mobile brand. Antitrust officials expressed concern that some consumers may be left without service.

T-Mobile is scheduled is to answer questions Monday from California regulators who said the company may have misrepresented the impending change, a charge the company denies.

Verizon Communications Inc., the third major U.S. carrier and the largest by number of customers, plans an end-of-2022 shutdown for its network that uses the older technology.

The FCC took comments on the alarm industry’s request through Sept. 14 and doesn’t have a deadline to decide. It is reviewing the matter, said Paloma Perez, a spokeswoman for the agency.

At issue is AT&T’s so-called 3G, or third-generation, service. Mobile companies in the U.S. began installing 3G networks almost 20 years ago, and phones relying on the signals carried early stages of the smartphone revolution kicked off by the introduction in 2007 of Apple Inc.’s iPhone.

Since then the wireless industry has moved on to 4G and now even faster 5G signals. Today, fewer than 9% of U.S. wireless connections are over connections using 3G or its predecessor 2G technologies, according to CTIA, a trade group for mobile providers including AT&T and Verizon.

AT&T in a filing to the FCC said “the lingering 3G customers” that still occupy its 3G network utilize only 4% of its capacity, and “the overwhelming majority of customers” have migrated to faster services.

The company says 3G signals are relied upon by about 2.7% of its postpaid and prepaid customers. Earlier, the company in a quarterly report said its post- and prepaid customers total 98 million. Together the figures suggest 2.6 million phone customers need to act or face a loss of phone service — a number likely to shrink as people switch to phones that handle newer signals. AT&T didn’t supply a figure.

The alarm industry in its filing said its security devices are in nearly 6 million homes and businesses. Those figures include about 1 million elderly and infirm people with personal alert devices, said Oppenheim. He estimated that a majority of the nearly 6 million devices run over AT&T’s network.

Oppenheim said AT&T has “a moral obligation independent of whatever the law may say to help these people in their homes.”

“We’re not asking for an unlimited period of time,” said Oppenheim.

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