AT&T says alarm industry is trying to ‘slam the brakes’ on its 3G shutdown

With just days to go until AT&T is due to shut down its 3G network on February 22, the telecom giant is accusing the alarm industry of trying to “slam the brakes” on its 3G-to-5G transition.

That's not an entirely new accusation. But with the 3G sunset looming, the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) is ever hopeful that something could change between now and next Tuesday.

“As of today, AICC has not been informed that an extension has been granted, but will continue to press for one,” the AICC told Fierce via email on Wednesday. “AT&T remains adamant that it is not willing to extend the planned February 22 shut down of its 3G service so far.”

An AT&T spokesperson confirmed there’s been no talk on the operator’s part of granting an extension. And according to AT&T, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) doesn’t have authority to intervene at this point.  

In a filing with the FCC on Tuesday, AT&T explained that it’s done about all it can do ahead of the 3G sunset: It’s given customers at least three years’ worth of notice and offered free and discounted devices. It’s given business customers more than $100 million in incentives to replace obsolete 3G devices and tailored other solutions for business customers with unique transition needs.

“What is new in Public Knowledge’s February 7 filing, however, is a remarkable proposal to short-circuit lawful Commission processes,” AT&T wrote.   

In its February 7 filing with the FCC, Public Knowledge disclosed how it urged the commission to be prepared to issue an order preventing the shutdown of AT&T’s 3G network unless AT&T can demonstrate that either 1) it has made arrangements with the alarm industry to prevent disruption of critical services or 2) that AT&T is capable of immediately restoring service in the event of a significant disruption to systems that are critical to protecting safety of life and property.

In his letter, Public Knowledge SVP Harold Feld explained that the FCC exercising its authority in this case is supported by evidence in the record, “demonstrating that alarm systems critical to safety of life and property are at significant risk of becoming inoperable if AT&T adheres to its current schedule and does not take steps to coordinate with the alarm industry.” Such an order falls well within the scope of the commission’s authority and doesn’t violate any provision of the Administrative Procedure Act, he said.

Feld also said the situation with the alarms and 3G is significantly different from the recent flare-up involving altimeters and the deployment of lower C-band networks. Whereas the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and aviation industry had two years to plan for upgrading altimeters and didn’t, the alarm industry “has been working diligently over the last two years” to upgrade their equipment. In other words, the alarm industry can’t be blamed for circumstances beyond its control, namely the pandemic and accompanying chip shortages.

Currently, less than 1% of AT&T’s mobile data traffic still uses 3G technology, according to the network operator.

RELATED: AT&T 3G sunset sets off alarms for monitor industry

All of the Big 3 wireless carriers are shutting down their 3G networks to make way for 5G. AT&T is first in line, with T-Mobile scheduled to shut down the CDMA network it inherited from Sprint on March 31 and T-Mobile’s 3G network by July 1. Verizon is last, with a 3G shutdown planned for December 31, 2022.

The AICC recently told Fierce that it asked for 10 extra months so that it would get the same amount of time from AT&T that Verizon provided. Pandemic-inspired chip shortages, supply chain issues and labor shortages have meant disruptions in their ability to make the necessary upgrades, the AICC said. 

AICC estimates there are close to 2 million upgrades left to do – 500,000 to 600,000 emergency home health monitoring systems protecting seniors and around 1.5 million traditional burglar and fire alarm systems protecting “tens of millions of people” frequenting commercial properties and homes.

However, the AICC said that doesn’t include the millions of emergency tracking systems in older cars, including 911 and collision avoidance, ankle bracelets for violent criminals, school bus tracking systems and rural 3G phone systems.

“We’re working tirelessly, calling, texting, sending mailers, even going door to door, but we estimate we still have 2 million upgrades to go,” the AICC said. “We are urging the Biden Administration to reach out to AT&T as they successfully did in the recent aviation spectrum dispute. With their help, we can get the added time we need to complete these lifesaving upgrades.”