AT&T has just shut down its 3G network; Your car may have lost some functionality

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Yesterday AT&T shut down an old cellular network that few phones still use. The end of AT&T’s 3G service probably affected few cellphone users. But it disabled the features of millions of cars. If your navigation system or remote starter suddenly stopped working today, contact a local dealer. The company that builds your car may have a solution for you.

Cell phones and other high-tech products communicate using parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. This spectrum has a limited number of frequencies. There is no way to add more.

The development of mobile phones takes place over several generations. Every few years, as technology advances, manufacturers design phones that use a new part of the spectrum. Most cellphone users today have fourth-generation (4G) or fifth-generation (5G) phones, leaving few users connected to older networks that ran third-generation (3G). With this part of the spectrum almost unused now, cellphone companies are beginning to shut down the cell tower networks that carry its signals.

Almost unused. What’s still on it?

A small number of 3G phones still operational and millions of cars.

After all, Americans replace our phones far more often than we replace our cars. You’re probably not reading this on a 2014 phone. But 2014 cars are commonplace in traffic.

More stops later this year

AT&T shut down its 3G network yesterday. Several other companies still operate 3G networks but plan to shut them down later this year. T-Mobile will deactivate Sprint’s 3G network in March and its own in July. Verizon will be the last to shut down, shutting down its 3G system in December.

What is the stop?

Stopping the 3G network will not prevent your car from working. Affected cars should still be able to drive and do almost everything they did before.

But any functionality that requires a car to communicate with a server outside the car could be affected by the shutdown. This includes navigation systems, emergency response systems like GM’s OnStar, remote start features, traffic updates, and some restrictions for teenage drivers may stop working.

Which cars are affected?

Some automakers use AT&T’s network exclusively for certain features. Others build cars that use AT&T systems and others that use other networks.

We have confirmed that some cars made by Acura, Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Porsche, Tesla and Volkswagen were affected yesterday. The Drive maintains a running list of makes and models affected by the shutdown.

What can you do?

If you started your car this morning only to get a navigation system error message, you may have options.

Each car manufacturer reacts differently to stopping.

Because it involves remotely connected features, some have already solved the problem remotely. GM, for example, says many of its cars automatically downloaded an update that moved their communications to a part of the spectrum that won’t be shut down any time soon.

However, some cars built before 2015 may require a hardware swap before lost functionality can be recovered. GM has launched a 3G shutdown website with more details.

Subaru runs its own website related to the shutdown and says dealers will need to install a physical upgrade to allow its STARLINK system to continue operating normally. The update is free, but owners must register online.

Honda has also launched a remote update to fix the issue for free.

Tesla will upgrade affected cars with a new modem but charge $200 for the fix. Volvo says it can also install an upgrade for a fee, but has not announced its price publicly and says, “Due to supplier constraints and shortages, we can offer limited upgrade quantities for the most affected models.

Volkswagen says it’s working on a solution and appears to be leaving the cost of the upgrade up to dealers, asking owners to “confirm parts and labor costs with your local Volkswagen dealer before scheduling your repair. “.

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