The end of 3G networks is a problem for millions of car owners

The planned shutdown of aging 3G networks will affect the connected systems of dozens of vehicle models that will hit the market anytime from 2010 to as late as 2021, in some cases.

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Millions of vehicles in the US, incl Tesla’sAudi, Honda and Nissan’swill lose some emergency and convenience features on Tuesday, as AT&T becomes the first telecommunications company to disable its 3G network this year.

The outages – known as network sunsets – affect older mobile phones but also other products such as home security systems and vehicles that use 3G networks for updates and remote communication.

The impact for vehicle owners will vary depending on their car or truck, millions of which were made over the past decade or so with 3G connectivity. Some owners may not experience any problems, while others may lose automatic rescue services in the event of a crash and some infotainment and convenience features such as real-time navigation and smartphone app functions such as pre-cabin conditioning.

“These are crazy times when you think about it. 3G didn’t come out that long ago and the first sunset has already happened,” said Kenny Hawk, CEO of Mojio, a mobility company that partners with Volkswagen and Audi to maintain emergency services. “You have a lot of vehicles out there … that had 3G built-in telematics controllers, modems and antennas that only work on 3G networks.”

To be clear, the phasing out of 3G networks is not expected to render any vehicles obsolete but may cause inconvenience and reduce life-saving emergency safety features. Resale values ​​of the vehicles may also be affected, as some features may not work as they did when the vehicles were new.

“A disaster in slow motion”

TO is the first major provider to phase out its 3G services, which will end on Tuesday, followed by T-Mobile and Verizon later this year. Other smaller operators that rely on these networks such as Cricket, Boost and Straight Talk will also be affected.

Telecom companies are implementing the 3G sunsets to free up infrastructure and capital to support newer, such as emerging 5G services.

“Since February 2019, we have been working with car manufacturers to help them transition their connected cars to newer technologies before 3G services end on February 22. Customers have received and will receive additional communications as we work with them in this transition, including direct mail, billing notices, emails and text messages,” AT&T said in an email Monday.

Although mobile providers have warned that their 3G networks will be permanently shut down for some time, many car manufacturers are still installed devices using the legacy network until as late as the 2021 model year.

William Wallace, Consumer Reports’ director of safety policy, described the situation as “a slow motion disaster,” as automakers either do nothing or struggle to maintain service for owners.

“We’re talking about millions of vehicles that will lose features that were promised to owners, and that will no longer be delivered,” he said. “In some cases, these features are safety features, things that can help them from dying or being seriously injured after a crash.”

Consumer Reports has a large list of affected vehicles by vehicle make. Owners, if they haven’t already been contacted by automakers, can also check brand websites to find out if their vehicles are affected.

Automatic influence

Solutions from car manufacturers to fix the problems vary widely. They range from discontinuing certain services to offering software and hardware upgrades, some of which require owners to pay one-time fees or sign up for new monthly or annual subscriptions.

“It’s hit and miss. Not every automaker’s solution is the same,” said Autotrader managing editor Brian Moody.

Tesla, for example, is charging $200 for owners of Model S vehicles built before June 2015 to upgrade their vehicle’s modem, according to its website. Without the update, Tesla says drivers will lose several remote functions and some infotainment features, including navigation, maps and traffic updates.

Owners of certain Hondas have until Tuesday to download new software for free. Otherwise, they’ll have to pay upwards of $900 for a hardware upgrade or lose some features, according to Consumer Reports.

A view of the dashboard of a Tesla Model S car.

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“Manufacturers, on a case-by-case basis, look at how many people are actually affected by this shutdown of 3G and, as they inevitably do with everything, they make a decision whether there are enough people who will be affected by this to justify the development of some kind of upgrade?” said Guidehouse Insights principal analyst Sam Abuelsamid.

Others such as Volkswagen, Audi and Stellantiswhich owns the Jeep, Ram and Chrysler brands, offers third-party options for certain services.

Mojio’s solution with Audi and Volkswagen is a plug-in device that connects to the vehicle’s telematics, or OBD, port to support many emergency services. It will be offered free to Audi customers for a period before they move to a subscription service, Hawk said.

Wallace criticized some automakers for taking advantage of the situation to try to charge owners for services that were promised to them for free when they bought the vehicle.

General Motors, which builds Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles, has been sending out remote updates to maintain services since October, according to a spokeswoman. Other car manufacturers such as Toyota Motor simply let the services expire.

“Although these circumstances were created by factors beyond our control, we sincerely regret any inconvenience this may cause,” Toyota said in a statement on its website about the end of services scheduled for Nov. 1.

Owner of Ford Motor Vehicles, including its luxury Lincoln brand, will be relatively unaffected by the 3G sunset other than an older version of an app that is no longer offered, a spokesman said.

Protects automotive technology

Network sunsets are not new to the automotive industry, but the impact on consumers is becoming more widespread, as automakers have expanded their connected vehicle fleets and services for greater revenue opportunities.

“The difference this time is that the number of vehicles affected by it before was relatively small, as a percentage of the total vehicle population,” Abuelsamid said.

OnStar’s 4G LTE dash system is shown on a Chevrolet Impala.

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Automakers are trying to protect future vehicles from network sunsets to ensure they can handle or be easily upgraded to support newer networks, according to company officials. Wallace argues that automakers, telecommunications companies and federal regulators need to prepare more for when 4G, which is widely used in new vehicles, ends.

“Congress needs to get on top of this and make sure this total disaster doesn’t happen again with 4G,” Wallace said.

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