The alarm industry is ringing a false alarm on 3G

This year, America’s national wireless providers are sunsetting their obsolete 3G networks as part of longstanding plans to make sure your wireless service is as modern and fast as possible. This transition has been in the works for more than three years, but the alarm industry is standing in the way of that progress and trying to delay connecting consumers to the world’s most advanced networks.  

You probably first heard of 3G when the technology was first introduced nearly 20 years ago. Back then, waiting minutes for a website to load on a tiny black and white screen was the height of innovation. Today, however, 3G networks carry a tiny fraction of the huge volume of mobile data we generate every day — in fact, less than 1 percent of mobile data travels on 3G networks, according to one provider. 

Still, significant chunks of spectrum are devoted to these outdated networks, which makes for inefficient use of airwaves — a finite resource that is crucial for our increasingly connected society. This year’s switchovers will allow providers to repurpose these valuable national spectrum resources for use in modern 5G networks — a transition that FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said would bring “significant benefits for all consumers” and “strengthen our communications infrastructure and provide more opportunities for innovation and growth at national scale.” 

Indeed, demand for mobile data is skyrocketing. In just the past five years the number of wireless subscriptions jumped more than 24 percent. And all those extra users are eating up more mobile data: The average smartphone user now exceeds 10.8 GBs a month, up from just 2.8 GBs five years ago. 

5G networks will help us keep up. Importantly, they will also help us maintain our global competitiveness, positioning us to lead the emerging 5G economy by fostering transformative new applications across education, healthcare and much more. They will even help meet 20 percent of our country’s emission reduction goals by 2025, according to Accenture. 

Unfortunately, the alarm industry, whose devices traditionally used 3G to communicate, is trying to delay this transition. They say the changeover is happening too soon. But the reality is that these companies have had several years — in some cases, five or more — to update their devices. 

Indeed, wireless providers have made extensive efforts to educate enterprises and customers about this transition, including direct mail, bill messaging, emails and text message notifications. For consumers with old phones that only work on 3G networks, they’ve offered free and discounted phones — with one provider reportedly shipping more than two million devices. And for the alarm industry, providers have offered to collaborate on solutions to address challenges with the transition, such as offering incentives to some to facilitate upgrades and partnering to develop easy-to-use upgrades that allow 3G devices to connect to 4G networks. 

Aware that they’ve known about the shift away from 3G for years, alarm companies are telling the FCC that the pandemic prevented them from upgrading consumer devices because technicians couldn’t enter customers’ homes — but some of their own assertions to Wall Street paint a different picture. In fact, one alarm company CEO told investors that “customer[s] got very comfortable with the sort of COVID precautions that our service providers were taking for installation and for sales.” There are also claims it has been hampered by supply chain shortages. But the same CEO told investors last year they haven’t materially impacted service providers.

And while some alarm companies lagged in their device replacement efforts, others acted diligently to meet the deadline by starting early and focusing efforts: ADT, the nation’s largest alarm company, reports that its products will be upgraded to 4G connectivity by the time the transition goes into effect. 

Just like we did with 1G and 2G networks, the time has come to make sure we’re using limited spectrum resources most efficiently to accommodate next-generation technologies and services. Providers will keep working with alarm companies to support their transitions while continuing the long-planned technological evolution that will bring significant benefits for American wireless users. 

Meredith Attwell Baker is the president and chief executive officer of CTIA, the wireless industry association, and served as an FCC commissioner from 2009 until 2011.

Tags 3G 5G Internet of Things Jessica Rosenworcel Mobile telecommunications Technology Telecommunications Wireless
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