Hold the phone: 3G phaseout happening sooner than some want

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AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are planning to shut down 3G services next year to make space for newer networks, like LTE and 5G.

The expected phaseout for AT&T is February 2022, for T-Mobile, April 2022, and for Verizon, December 2022.

That means technology that uses the older network, like home security devices, fire alert systems and even old cell phones could soon fail to function.

If your cell phone is more than a few years old, you might need to upgrade it before mobile providers shut down the network.

New Vision Security in Bismarck has recently had to update hundreds of customers’ alarm systems. Owner Cameron Fleck says they still have about 60 or 70 left.

“No one wants to do it, so oftentimes we’ll find ourselves as a company doing this for free or oftentimes even losing money because we want to keep them as a customer and make them happy,” Fleck said.

Fleck says it’s fairly easy to fix since most systems just need a new chip.

But with chip shortages brought by the pandemic, the process can be delayed.

“The chip shortage is a real thing, and we’re seeing it affect our business some products 6 months out now we’re hearing,” Fleck said.

Updating the technology isn’t something to put off. If your system can’t call authorities during an emergency, you could be at risk.

“There’d be no communication from your security panel through the communicating towers and then into the police department, it would just be shut off,” Fleck said.

While Fleck says moving to the better network is important, more time would help ease the transition.

That’s something AARP is also asking for.

The group representing older Americans asked the Federal Communications Commission to require AT&T’s deadline be extended to the end of 2022, instead of February 2022.

“The concern from AARP is that it could impact older adults, millions across the country and obviously North Dakota would be a proportional amount of that, who rely on health monitoring or alarm systems,” State Director for AARP North Dakota Josh Askvig said.

It’s estimated that 3,000,000 Americans rely on personal emergency response systems, and about 17 percent of households have a home security system.

“That’s why we’re hoping there could be an agreeable resolution to, again, not stop the transition from 3G, but just do it in an orderly manner to ensure that those who rely on those services can continue to rely on that services,” Askvig said.

Another area impacted: fire alert systems.

Bismarck Fire Chief Owen Fitzsimmons says if your system isn’t updated, the alarm will go off but the fire department won’t be called automatically.

“If there’s nobody there and there’s nobody to raise the alarm or dial 911 without that remote monitoring there’s not going to be any notification to the fire service that there’s an issue,” Fitzsimmons said.

The phaseout could also impact the state’s 24/7 Sobriety program, an ankle bracelet system used as an alternative to jail time for those charged with or convicted of a DUI, domestic violence, child abuse, or other offenses involving drugs or alcohol.

About 700 people currently participate in that program, which relies entirely on 3G.

In a letter to the FCC, a special agent with North Dakota’s Attorney General’s Office says “If 3G services were to be terminated before our organization has had an opportunity to upgrade its devices and arrange a swap-out with each monitored offender, there will be significant public safety consequences.”

To find out if any of your devices rely on 3G, it’s best to contact your service provider about any needed upgrades.

AT&T has responded to requests to extend the deadline by saying its three years of notice should have provided enough time.

Other groups who have filed with the FCC argue the phaseout schedule didn’t account for a pandemic, which has created delays and shortages across the board.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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