Mobile PERS Devices Transition to 4G, Causing Sunsetting Issues for Elderly


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The elderly and their caregivers across the United States are facing a technology upgrade that will render personal emergency response systems (mPERS) obsolete. EE Times reported that devices would be “rendered inoperable” by the pending 3G shutdown, forcing users to switch to 4G and WiFi-based devices. The cost to upgrade carries a price tag of at least $150, which is steep for some users, especially the elderly.

According to the EE Times, Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) units were invented in Germany in the early 1970s. Mobile PERS (mPERS) products rose to prominence in the late 2000s. The Mobile versions allow seniors mobility to run errands, visit friends and family, and travel for vacation while wearing the devices connected to a cellular network that can access GPS satellites. The updated GPS feature keeps elderly users safer by sending out alerts if someone leaves geo-fenced parameters outside their home.  

According to Chris Holbert, CEO of SecuraTrac, the change over to 4G-based mPERS devices, often with WiFi onboard, is happening now. T-Mobile will disable Sprint’s 3G network on January 1, 2022; AT&T will shut down its 3G network by February 2022; T-Mobile will disable its own network in April 2022, and Verizon has yet to release a date for its sunset plans, but it’s coming. 

Holbert noted that the upgraded mPERS devices would work well in densely populated urban areas where a user’s distance from an access point or cell tower is easily calculated. Conversely, GPS doesn’t work as well in big cities crowded with large buildings because the positioning satellites need an open sky to triangulate a user’s position, he added. Another challenge is the new devices’ size, which is bulkier than older models due to the increased chipset sizes needed for 4G processing. 

According to a study by Opensignal, in the summer of 2019, 30 million users were still on the 3G network. At the time, 83 percent of the 3G-only users didn’t have a 4G plan, 13 percent spent time exclusively in areas where 4G did not reach, and 4 percent didn’t have a 4G-capable phone. EE Times reported that the most vulnerable population still using 3G are seniors. 

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