Critical Communications

Phasing out 3G may impact US trucking market

17 February 2022

While the world’s communications companies and consumers move to 5G, the next-generation wireless technology, legacy technologies are still used by a significant number of consumers and workplaces.

News that AT&T plans to discontinue its 3G network this month, which means modules and devices that use 3G voice and data-only services will no longer work, could have a crippling effect on 350,000 U.S. trucks, according to new data from ABI Research.

These Class 8 vehicles and many connected cold-chain trailers are strained in a supply chain already facing a current driver shortage due to an aging population of drivers. Additionally, smaller fleets are more likely to have delayed the transition from 3G to 4G devices because it requires Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) compliance.

“It is entirely likely that many fleets that have not yet transitioned will be unable to purchase, remove and replace devices prior to Feb. 22,” said Susan Beardslee, supply chain and logistics principal analyst at ABI Research. “This will result in serious compliance, safety, vehicle health and operational capability challenges to an industry that moves roughly 72.5% of the nation's freight by weight, and during a time of rolling, crucial shortages of consumer and business products.”

International issues

Furthermore, the transition may have cross-border trade ramifications as both Canada and Mexico have delayed their 3G sunsets to later this decade. The fleets using AT&T 3G devices will no longer be able to transmit or receive data between drivers and dispatch when crossing into these countries. Also, linked devices that provide telematics won’t work.

“Essentially, when the devices no longer function, drivers cannot digitally track their Hours of Service (HOS),” Beardslee said. “Considering that driver fatigue tops the list of road dangers, this sunset severely impacts ELD compliance and road safety.”

Beyond an extension from AT&T or an exemption from the FMCSA, longer-term connectivity and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) will become of vital importance for the trucking industry. Telematics will come factory/line-fit/OEM-grade with the unit pre-installed, meaning the connection issues will be somewhat solved but until that point, the 3G sunset is potentially a problematic scenario for truckers.

“Let’s hope that when an inevitable 4G shutdown occurs in the future, telematics companies and fleets will be better prepared,” Beardslee said.

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