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

The planned shutdown of outdated 3G networks will affect the connected systems of dozens of vehicle models hitting the market anytime between 2010 and as recently as 2021, in some cases.

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Millions of vehicles in the United States, including Teslas, Audis, Hondas and Nissans, will lose some emergency and convenience features by Tuesday as AT&T becomes the first telecommunications company to turn off its 3G network this year.

The shutdowns – known as network sunsets – affect older cellphones, but also other products such as home security systems and vehicles that use 3G networks for updates and upgrades. remote communications.

The impact for vehicle owners will vary depending on their car or truck, millions of which have been manufactured over the past decade with 3G connectivity. Some owners may not experience any issues, while others may lose automatic crash response services and certain infotainment and convenience features such as real-time navigation and pre-set climate control. cabin.

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

“A Disaster in Slow Motion”

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

Telecom companies are phasing out 3G to free up infrastructure and capital to support newer ones, such as emerging 5G services.

“Since February 2019, we have been working with automakers to help them upgrade their connected cars to newer technology before 3G services end on February 22. Customers have and will receive additional communications as we work with them. about this transition, including letters, invoices, emails and text messages,” AT&T said in an emailed statement Monday.

Even though cellphone providers have warned that their networks will be permanently shut down for a while, many automakers were still relying on 3G connectivity until the 2021 model year.

William Wallace, Consumer Report’s chief safety officer, described the situation as “a disaster in slow motion” as automakers either do nothing or scramble to maintain services to owners.

“We’re talking about millions of vehicles that will lose features promised to owners and no longer be delivered,” he said. “In some cases, those features are safety features, things that can help them not die or be seriously injured after an accident.”

Consumer Reports offers a long list of affected vehicles by car brand. Owners, if they have not yet been contacted by automakers, can also check brand websites to find out if their vehicle is impacted.

Auto impact

Car manufacturers’ solutions to problems vary widely. They range from shutting down certain services to offering software and hardware upgrades, some of which require owners to pay a one-time fee or sign up for new monthly or annual subscriptions.

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

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

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

View of the dashboard of a Tesla Model S car.

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“Manufacturers, on a case-by-case basis, are looking at how many people are actually affected by this 3G shutdown and, as they inevitably do with anything, they are deciding if there are enough people who are going to be impacted by to justify developing some sort of upgrade?” said Guidehouse Insights Principal Analyst Sam Abuelsamid.

Others like Volkswagen, Audi, and Stellantis, which owns the Jeep, Ram, and Chrysler brands, offer third-party alternatives 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 maintain numerous emergency services. It will be offered free to Audi customers for a period of time before moving to a subscription service, Hawk said.

Wallace blamed some automakers for taking advantage of the situation to try to charge owners for services they were promised free of charge when they purchased the vehicle.

General Motors, which builds Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles, has been sending updates remotely to maintain services since October, according to a spokeswoman. Other automakers such as Toyota Motor simply let 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 posted on its website about the November 1 end of services.

Owners of Ford Motor vehicles, including its luxury brand Lincoln, will be relatively unaffected by the 3G sunset, except for an older version of an app that is no longer offered, a source said. spokesperson.

Save automotive technology

Network shutdowns aren’t new to the auto 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 around is that in the past, the number of vehicles affected was relatively low, as a percentage of the total vehicle population,” Abuelsamid said.

OnStar’s 4G LTE in-dash system displayed on a Chevrolet Impala.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Automakers are trying to shield future vehicles from network sunsets to ensure they can handle or be easily upgraded to support new networks, company officials say. Wallace argues that automakers, telecommunications companies and federal regulators need to be more prepared for the end of 4G, which is widely used in new vehicles.

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

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