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Mobile service providers are shutting down their 3G wireless networks to make room for more advanced network services, like 5G. The new networks are better able to handle the exponential growth in the use of wireless devices and at faster speeds, but it spells trouble for drivers still using 3G networks.

The FMCSA warns that many older mobile phones and other mobile devices that use 3G will be unable to use data services, including your mandatory electronic logging devices.

 

When Will 3G Wireless Networks Shut Down?

Dates announced by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon 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

 

The FMCSA has emphasized that parts of these networks will be retired sooner rather than later. Wireless carriers have already begun retiring 3G technology in some towers across the nation and 3G service on all networks will become less and less reliable because wireless companies are unlikely to invest in maintaining something they’re about to discontinue, which could mean that your ELD has a hire potential of malfunction.

Once a 3G network is no longer supported 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.

The FMCSA also said that “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 wireless 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 FMCSA.

 

What Technology and Data Could be Effected?

Hours of service data – The trucking industry has evolved far beyond GPS location services to electronic logging devices (ELD). ELDs are Federally mandated recording units that track hours of service of drivers, and engine use, to avoid fatigue, potential accidents, and truck downtime.

Telematics and energy – Fuel represents one-third of vehicle operation costs, and in the last year the price of diesel in the U.S. has risen by a third per gallon on U.S. highways, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEA).

A wide array of data collected by fleet management systems allows operators to optimize routing, monitor fuel efficiency, and decide when to evaluate engines that use more efficient energy sources. Apps that locate the lowest fuel prices are beginning to flourish.

Vehicle tracking – Wireless operator network services are widely used to monitor the status of all vital systems in trucks to determine their performance and schedule out-of-service time for inspections, maintenance, and general adjustments.

Trucking industry experts and trade association execs have advised truckers and fleet owners and operators who have not already upgraded to services and devices that use 4G or 5G wireless data services to start tomorrow.

 

What Should Fleet Operators do About 3G Networks Shutting Down?

First, find out if your ELD relies on a 3G network and if you’re not sure, contact your ELD provider. No further action is required if your ELD does not rely on 3G and meets all minimum requirements. 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 as you can. If your provider doesn’t have an answer that gives you peace of mind, then you should start contacting other ELD providers to explore other options.

It’s already a massive undertaking for a fleet to coordinate bringing CMVs off the road to replace in-cab devices, especially during tight-capacity times such as we are seeing now. The global shortage of microchips and other electronic components are making things worse, which could affect the ability of your supplier to provide enough 4G or 5G ELD devices to meet demand.

Fleets that wait until the last minute may not only run into issues getting enough ELD devices, but also a backlog of people to install them and it’s not just ELDs. Today’s tractor-trailers rely on telematics for functions such as in-cab cameras, trailer tracking, various sensors and much more.

 

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