As wireless carriers upgrade to 4G and even 5G networks, 3G networks will soon stop working altogether.  -  Photo: Lari Bat

As wireless carriers upgrade to 4G and even 5G networks, 3G networks will soon stop working altogether.

Photo: Lari Bat

Mobile carriers are shutting down their 3G networks to make room for more advanced network services, including 5G. The new networks are better able to handle the exponential growth in the use of wireless devices — but it spells trouble for anyone still on the 3G network.

Very soon, many older cell phones and other mobile devices that use 3G will be unable to use data services — and that could include your mandatory electronic logging devices, warns the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Dates announced by mobile carriers for the completion of their shutdowns are:

  • AT&T 3G: Feb. 22, 2022
  • Sprint 3G (T-Mobile): March 31, 2022
  • Sprint LTE (T-Mobile): June 30, 2022
  • T-Mobile 3G: July 1, 2022
  • Verizon 3G: Dec. 31, 2022

However, FMCSA emphasizes, parts of those networks will be retired sooner. Wireless carriers have already begun retiring 3G technology in some towers. And 3G service on all networks will become less and less reliable because wireless companies are unlikely to invest much money in maintaining something they’re about to shut down. So you’ll have pockets in the country that no longer will have wireless connectivity for 3G devices. And that means your ELD is going to register a malfunction.

Once a 3G network is no longer supported, FMCSA says, it is highly unlikely that any ELDs that rely on that network will be able to meet the minimum requirements established by the ELD technical specifications, including recording all required data elements and transferring ELD output files.

Therefore, FMCSA says, any ELD that requires 3G cellular connectivity to perform its functionality will no longer be in compliance with the technical specifications in the ELD rule after the 3G network it relies on is sunset.

When in an area that does not support 3G, a 3G device will register a malfunction. In accordance with 49 CFR 395.34, the carrier has eight days to get the malfunction resolved, in this case by replacement, unless an extension is granted, according to the agency.

What Should You Do?

First, find out if your ELD relies on a 3G network. If you’re not sure, contact your ELD provider. If your ELD does not rely on 3G, and meets all minimum requirements, no further action is needed.

If your ELD does rely on a 3G network, ask your ELD provider about its plan for upgrading or replacing your device to one that will be supported after the 3G sunset, and complete the necessary actions as soon as possible.

If your provider doesn’t have an answer that gives you peace of mind, then you should start contacting other telematics providers to explore other options.

It’s already daunting for a fleet to coordinate bringing trucks off the road to replace in-cab devices, especially during tight-capacity times such as we are seeing now.

Making things worse is the global shortage of microchips and other electronic components, which could affect the ability of your supplier to provide enough 4G or 5G devices to meet demand.

Fleets that wait until the last minute may not only face problems getting enough devices, but also a backlog of people to install them.

And it’s not just ELDs, of course. Today’s tractor-trailers rely on telematics for functions such as in-cab cameras, trailer tracking and much more.

Outsourcing the Transition

Navajo Express decided to pay an outside company to expedite its transition from 3G.  -  Photo: Velociti

Navajo Express decided to pay an outside company to expedite its transition from 3G.

Photo: Velociti

One company that’s not waiting until the last minute to upgrade its 3G devices is Colorado-based Navajo Express. It’s using Velociti to implement the technology upgrades — and paying more for expedited service.

Navajo Express provides long-haul and dedicated transportation services with a fleet of approximately 1,000 tractors and 2,500 trailers — a lot of equipment to upgrade. By the end of the year, Velociti will replace all of Navajo’s Orbcomm 3G devices with 4G onboard systems. 

“We have a lot of equipment to transition, and with Velociti’s ability to expedite our technology installations, we can eliminate service interruptions for our drivers and customers,” says Kristen Rogne, manager of analytics at Navajo Express. “At Navajo, drivers are customer number one, so it’s all about keeping them moving.”

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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