As cellular technology continues to become more popular and evolve further, slow, outdated or obsolete systems are gradually eliminated from the technosphere. This process, known as “sunsetting,” is intended to free up bandwidth and spectrum for companies to provide faster service and broader data access capabilities to its customers. We’ve already witnessed the demise of first- and second-generation cellular technology as 3G arose to become the gold standard. Now, 4G, 5G and LTE or Long-Term Evolution networks, have rendered 3G obsolete—and the change may be closer than you think, with repercussions which may surprise you.

As early as the end of this year, carriers are ceasing activation of new 3G equipment such as cellphones in favor of redirecting customers to later-gen technology which will be better equipped to cope with the new demands of the enhanced systems. Customers with 3G already in place will have a grace period to upgrade to newer tech, but this period ranges from a matter of a few months to as long as three years depending upon the carrier and location. But one (R) fact is definite.

On January 1st, 2023, the 3G network in the United States will cease to exist.

The basic reason given by the carriers for sunsetting the 3G network is simple: cost. At its base, it’s more cost-effective for carriers, and less expensive for customers, to encourage existing users to adapt to new tech compatible with the new 4G/5G and LTE networks, with a more robust spectrum of voice and data access, than to maintain legacy equipment which only accounts for a modest fraction of their user base, for years or decades. 

Many, if not most, modern life safety systems rely on cellular communication to contact and summon help in the event of an emergency such as a fire. As the 3G network and the equipment which relies on it goes away, a frustrating nuisance for many cellphone users becomes a literal matter of life and death for life safety systems which use 3G-based tech and networks to function. And it has led to a great deal of confusion, and some frequently asked questions, about how the 3G sunset will affect your life safety systems. Since we’ve fielded a lot of these questions, here are a few of the more common ones we’ve received.

How do I know if my life systems work on 3G or some other wireless protocol? Is there a way to check? 

That information would typically be provided by your current monitoring company or their current fire alarm service company of record.

Does Statcomm-serviced equipment use a specific cellular carrier, or is it based on the customer’s existing cellular plan? 

The specific carrier a given client’s life safety systems communicate through is based on the performance of a site survey to determine which carrier has the best signal in a given area. Verizon and AT&T are the most commonly used carriers. Generally, barring unforeseen circumstances which make a technology change impractical, Statcomm recommends changing from cellular to the AES mesh network or IP link network for a wireless communications solution.

Can’t we just keep on using 3G? 

The simple answer is, as of no later than January 1st, 2023, no, 3G will not be available at all, which means systems using 3G won’t be able to summon help. Changes or upgrades to the existing life safety systems will need to be made before service is cut off. If delayed too long and service is lost, Authorities Having Jurisdiction, or AHJ’s, will likely require a fire watch until the systems are back online and capable of communicating with monitoring and emergency statins responders. This will add additional expense to the upgrade.

Can’t we just use a landline system as a backup or primary emergency contact for our life safety systems? 

While landline service is still available as a means of communication, for now, it is also slated for sunset. Service providers have greatly increased the monthly recurring charges to maintain the system, and before long, landline won’t be an option either.

How can I make sure my life safety systems are ready for the 3G sunset? 

This question presumes the system is currently using a 3G cellular device to transmit life safety signals. In that case the only options would be to upgrade to a new 4G LTE or 5G capable cellular communicator or change to an entirely different technology such as a mesh network (AES) or an IP link communicator, both of which use radio frequencies and an interlinked subscriber network to “jump” an emergency signal from the point of origin to the monitoring station or emergency services. To find out which communications protocols your system is currently using, contact your life safety systems provider or monitoring company.

The 3G sunset will supposedly take out all cellular transmissions on the 3G network. But aren’t life safety systems supposed to be able to work without building power? Why is this different?

This is a question of the difference between function versus capability. All fire alarm devices operating on electrical power are required to have the ability to function from a primary power source, typically 120vac, and a secondary power source, typically 24vdc, supplied by batteries. The secondary power source must keep the system functional for a minimum of 24 hours and be able to activate all audible and visual annunciators for a minimum of 5 minutes. The ability to provide power is unrelated to the function of the technology used to summon help, in this case, a life safety system’s digital communication. When the 3G network shuts down, life safety systems running on 3G protocols will still operate and try to contact help using available power sources—but they will essentially be talking to themselves because there will be no network to allow them to communicate.

What are the alternatives to 3G for life safety systems? 

Currently, the only available options are to upgrade to 4G LTE or 5G-capable cellular communicator or change to an entirely different technology such as an AES mesh network or an IP link communicator.

What can/does Statcomm do to make sure customers are prepared for the 3G sunset?

Statcomm is in the process of notifying our (E) clients with more detailed information about the 3G sunset as it pertains to their individual systems, as well as options for proposals for upgrade or technology change. We are also actively working with our clients to make sure their systems are updated well in advance of currently stated sunset dates.

At Statcomm, we’re committed to making sure our clients’ life and fire safety systems are prepared for whatever comes their way. Whether it’s a spate of inclement weather or a nationwide technological shift, we’re here to help make sure you, and your tenants and employees, have the tools they need to stay safe in an emergency. To learn more about how we can help make sure you’re ready for the 3G sunset and beyond, please call us at (650) 988-9508 or email us at busdevteam@statcomm.com.


 

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What’s the Best Alternative to Cellular for My Life Safety Systems?

 

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