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AT&T faces growing calls to delay 3G shutdown

AT&T's plan to shutter its 3G network early next year would create "a significant public safety risk" and put "an extraordinary strain on the resources of law enforcement," claims a company that makes electronic monitoring devices.

That's because law enforcement agencies around the country use monitoring devices to keep track of offenders who aren't in jail, and some of those devices still connect to 3G networks operated by AT&T and Verizon. Verizon plans to shutter its 3G network at the end of 2022 (a date it settled on after several delays), but AT&T wants to do so on February 22, 2022.

"The February 2022 3G network shutdown date announced by AT&T is a more pressing concern for the EM [electronic monitoring] industry because the manufacture, testing and swap out of 4G modules and devices has had to be largely suspended over the past 18 months due to COVID-19 shutdowns," Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc. (AMS) argued in a filing to the FCC. The company makes electronic monitoring equipment for the criminal justice system, and it warned that an unspecified number of the 250,000 offenders using such gadgets would be affected by AT&T's shutdown plans.

Continued AMS: "In recent weeks and months, the industry's redoubled efforts to make up for lost time continue to be thwarted by diminished inventories and the slow restart of global supply chains. These forces are much too great for any one company, let alone an entire industry, to counteract."

The company urged the FCC to require AT&T to delay its 3G shutdown.

AMS joins the Alarm Industry Communications Committee, which argued earlier this year that millions of alarms installed in homes and businesses around the US would be affected by AT&T's 3G network shutdown plans.

AT&T fights back

AT&T this week responded to the alarm industry's concerns. As noted by FierceWireless, the company said it cannot delay its 3G network shutdown because doing so would affect its efforts to improve its 5G network.

"AT&T is working around the clock to bring the full promise of 5G to its customers nationwide," AT&T told the FCC. "To succeed, AT&T will need to make optimally efficient use of its finite spectrum assets. It must promptly repurpose from 3G to 5G all of its 850MHz spectrum – with its long-range propagation and penetration characteristics – to boost network performance and prevent service outages across America. And it must therefore sunset its 850MHz-based 3G network in February 2022."

AT&T explained that, due to the specifications around the UMTS standard it uses for 3G, it currently must allocate fully 10MHz of its lowband 850MHz holdings to its 3G network, despite the fact that its 3G customers use just 4% of that resulting network capacity. The company said it needs to reallocate that 10MHz of lowband spectrum to the midband 5G network it's building with the C-band spectrum licenses it purchased earlier this year. Specifically, AT&T said it needs to add its lowband 850MHz spectrum – which covers wide geographic areas – to the uplink portion of its midband 5G network in order to prevent dropped calls and other problems on the edges of its C-band coverage areas.

"In short, AT&T cannot repurpose that critical 850MHz spectrum for 5G until after it shuts down the 3G network," AT&T told the FCC.

It's unclear how the FCC might address the topic. However, AT&T isn't the only company facing heat over its 3G network-shutdown efforts. The California Public Utilities Commission recently warned T-Mobile it would investigate the company's plans to shut down its own 3G CDMA network early next year.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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