Thursday, December 27, 2007

Analog cellular shutdown affects more than you think

There are several impending shutdowns that users of wireless devices - not necessarily cell phones - need to be aware of.
  1. AT&T, Verizon and Alltel will be shutting down their old analog cellular networks - known as AMPS - in February. For users in rural areas or those who relied on analog coverage when they were roaming, it's time to start looking for alternatives. Verizon is especially guilty of relying on analog roaming when out of their own CDMA coverage area.

  2. In rural areas, there will be some new coverage blackholes created by the shutdown. So expect coverage to get worse before it gets better. None of the carriers are admitting to this but it's definitely the elephant in the room. Also keep in mind that it might be a good idea to stop into your local carrier's retail store and have the update the PRL (preferred roaming list) on your existing phone. Any phone more than 6 months old needs the update. Phones more than a year or so old absolutely need the update. Otherwise your phone will not know about the new digital roaming arrangements carriers have been making to provide coverage for their users.

  3. If you have an alarm system of any type that contains a wireless monitoring or notification system, call your alarm company NOW. Most of the systems installed in the past decade relied on the older analog cellular networks for connectivity. Your alarm company will be able to figure out what kind of cellular connection you are using and if necessary can install a replacement unit that will work on the digital networks. It won't be free but without it your alarm monitoring will cease to function in an emergency.

  4. Automobile communications systems that were made before 2005 and in some cases including 2005, may need to have their wireless transmitter units replaced. Of specific concern are OnStar and similar systems. The older OnStar units were analog only and will cease to function after the analog networks cease. That means protections like crash notification and remote lockout assistance will stop functioning along with it.

  5. Older wireless credit card terminals from all of the major credit card networks will also cease to function when the analog network dies. These units were normally powered by the analog networks because the analog networks supported the direct host connectivity the units needed. I don't know of retrofit options for any of them since the communications modem is embedded into the body of the unit. They will need to be replaced with newer equipment, preferably IP based units running over GPRS, 1XRTT, EVDO or UMTS. Hint... go with EVDO or UMTS if at all possible. That will give you the most number of years of service out of the unit and the fastest transaction processing speed.