AT&T Planned 3G Shutdown Concerns Alarm, Medical Alert Industries

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AT&T plans to shut down its 3G network today, saying it’s necessary to make the transition to 5G. However, while the carrier says less than one percent of mobile data traffic runs on its 3G network, the shutdown impacts devices other than phones. That worries the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC), which says the shutdown is happening too fast and could risk lives.

After AT&T, T-Mobile will decommission its 3G network July 1. Verizon users have until December 31, according to the FCC.

The AICC previously submitted a petition for emergency relief to the FCC, asking the agency to intervene and make AT&T wait. It says in addition to alarm systems, the shutdown impacts personal emergency response systems that many seniors rely on to live independently.

AT&T announced the shutdown in 2019, giving companies time to prepare. However, the AICC says the pandemic isolated its elderly customer base, frequent scams and robocalls have made them wary of accepting claims of free new devices, and supply chain disruptions have complicated the acquisition of new equipment.

Medical alert executives told CNBC most of the industry runs on AT&T, which means the deadline for that carrier affects a broad proportion of the devices in use. The AICC found in a member survey about two million security, fire and medical alert devices remained on 3G, including hundreds of thousands of people with personal emergency response devices.

At press time yesterday, the FCC had not pushed back the AT&T deadline. AT&T posted a notice saying at the Commission’s urging, it’s offering roaming options. It also explained the actions it has taken to help customers migrate to newer networks.

“Since February of 2019, we have worked with our business customers to help them transition their 3G devices to newer technology,” an AT&T spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC. “We have sent numerous communications and our account teams have also been working with them to help them get through their upgrade cycles.”

An agency spokesperson told CNBC the Commission “is actively monitoring the phase out of 3G networks and, based on a comprehensive record compiled by the agency, is working with all stakeholders on safeguards that will help ensure that remaining legacy phones and IoT devices have a reasonable opportunity to transition to newer networks, including new roaming options to help bridge the transition.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel indicated during a news conference Friday that the agency was unlikely to force a delay, according to Communications Daily. The Commission provided information on its website for consumers who may be impacted.

Over the weekend, the AICC reacted to the roaming agreement in a supplement to its petition. The AICC said, “time will be needed to explore the viability of the roaming solution for affected alarm companies. In addition, the alarm industry will need to negotiate the necessary arrangements with AT&T and T-Mobile.” It says there isn’t enough time to work out the deals before the shutdown.

A spokeswoman for the AICC told Inside Towers on Monday: “The reality is AT&T’s roaming proposal is not workable, their deadline is [today], they can’t do 13-14,000 separate agreements with alarm companies in that timeframe, refuse to do a master agreement and many of the largest alarm companies are not compatible with T-Mobile’s platform. With 2 million users left to upgrade, lives are at risk.”

AT&T declined further comment.

CTIA said 99 percent of Americans are covered by 4G networks. “Wireless providers have successfully transitioned customers from old to new generations before, and have been working with customers for more than two years, in many cases offering free phones and other assistance, to make the transition away from 3G even easier,” the group said in a statement. “Customers who have questions should reach out to their providers to find out more information and discuss options.” 

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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