Sunset 3G: what you need to know


Imagine: you are stuck at the edge of a deserted road with your fuel gauge on “E”, or you have just had an accident. You press the emergency button on your overhead console, hoping to speak to someone who can help you … and nothing happens.

This is a real possibility for millions of car owners whose vehicles use telematics systems to send emergency alerts. It will also affect those who obtain navigation data, download information for their on-board Wi-Fi hotspots, or take advantage of concierge services.

Many of these telematics systems rely on 3G cellular networks, which will be shut down by carriers in 2022. At least one is expected to be shut down as early as February. This shutdown of cellular networks is called the 3G Sunset, and some automakers are doing more to protect their customers’ connectivity than others.

Even if you might be thinking, “I just bought my new car in 2021, and it only affects older cars,” you might be surprised. The shutdown will affect any vehicle equipped with a 3G data modem, including certain 2021 cars, trucks and SUVs.

Let’s take a look at Sunset 3G and what you can do to minimize the effect it will have on your car’s ability to communicate.

What is the 3G sunset?

Over the years, cellular communications technology has evolved, becoming more reliable, with faster data transfer and more capacity. With 5G, or fifth generation, cellular technology now becoming the norm, carriers are planning to shut down their 3G, or third generation, networks. When they don’t have to maintain the old technology, they can use the old 3G frequencies to expand their 5G bandwidth.

At least one 4G LTE network is also expected to be closed in 2022.

According to the FCC, 3G networks are expected to disconnect according to the following schedule:

  • AT&T 3G: February 2022

  • Verizon 3G: December 31, 2022

  • T-Mobile (Sprint 3G TDMA): March 31, 2022

  • T-Mobile (Sprint 4G LTE): June 30, 2022

  • T-Mobile (3G UMTS): July 1, 2022

Other mobile phone companies that depend on AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile for their networks will experience similar shutdowns.

Whether you realize it or not, many connected objects that we use in our daily lives still work on 3G networks. Many connected medical devices (such as pacemaker monitors and CPAP machines), home security systems, and vehicle connectivity systems are based on 3G technology. Even some ankle monitors used in the criminal justice system use 3G technology.

Why is 3G sunset affecting my car?

Sunset 3G affects your car because many vehicle connectivity systems use 3G networks. They include accident notification systems, concierge services, connected traffic and navigation, remote unlock and start, data for Wi-Fi hotspots and more. Data functions will still work in some cases, but voice functions will not.

Unlike smartphones, which benefit from updated technology over product cycles as short as a year, cars have much longer product cycles. It can take years for a car’s technology to be developed, certified for use, and installed in a vehicle. This same technology is typically used until the vehicle is redesigned, which can take half a decade or more.

This is why 3G Sunset simply does not apply to older vehicles. Some vehicles built through 2021 still have 3G modems that deliver data to various systems.

What can’t my car do?

What your car can and will not continue to do depends on the technology it uses, the automaker’s plans, offering updates, and applying any updates on time.

Vehicles use connectivity in several ways. According to the manufacturers, they can rely on 3G networks for:

  • Concierge services such as reservations or roadside assistance

  • Connected navigation and traffic

  • Crash report, location and response (data and / or voice)

  • Data for on-board Wi-Fi access points

  • Smartphone application connectivity

  • Service planning

  • Software updates and alerts

  • Real-time weather data

  • Remote engine start

  • Remote lock / unlock

Of course, not all cars will lose all of these functions when their 3G network is cut. Various car manufacturers rely on different technologies and use different providers of cellular systems. In some cases, systems may be upgraded, while in others you will lose capacity forever.

“But I paid in advance for these services” or “This is the reason why I bought my car”

While it would be great if 3G networks could live on forever, the 3G Sunset is entirely beyond the control of the automakers. It is in the hands of the telecommunications industry and mobile phone providers, who must use the bandwidth that the 3G Sunset will open up to provide more space for 5G networks.

John M. Vincent / US News & World Report

This may not be an acceptable response for drivers who saw services like OnStar, HondaLink, Lexus Enform, or Toyota Safety Connect as a reason to buy.

However, how each automaker solves the problem is in their control. Their responses are surprisingly patchy, with a few automakers simply raising their arms in the air and coldly telling customers, “no luck.” Some automakers provide software updates, while others offer updated hardware. We’ll look at the options for buyers who lose connectivity in a moment.

Can I update my car to a newer system?

The short answer is “it depends”. It seems that every automaker approaches the issue differently. For some, including owners of many Honda and Acura vehicles, automakers have released software updates over the air already, and drivers just have to let the updates install.

It is essential that you install updates before shutting down 3G networks. Vehicles use their 3G modems to download software, and they will not be able to do so once there is no more network to use.

In other cases, you will need to visit the dealer to have the updated hardware installed or a software patch applied. The updates will allow vehicles to use newer technology to disseminate data.

Some automakers, notably Toyota and Lexus, don’t offer their customers any way to continue receiving connected services (unless they buy a new car). Many Toyota and Lexus models, including some that are only a few years old, will lose their Toyota Safety Connect or Lexus Enform Safety Connect at the end of October 2022. Certain Audi models the models will lose their telematics from February.

Four Stellantis brands (Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep and Ram) are following a different path for many of their affected vehicles by converting continued access to a paid service. Together with partner T-Mobile, they are offering a 3G to 4G upgrade device that plugs into the OBD II port of compatible vehicles. It is only available to customers who subscribe to the Uconnect Access plan. The device costs $ 120 and a monthly fee of $ 9.99 to $ 29.99, depending on your data usage.

You should contact your dealership’s service department or your vehicle’s manufacturer to determine what options, if any, are available. You should do this before you lose connectivity, as your options may be more limited once your car can no longer receive over-the-air updates.

What if I can’t update my car?

If your car cannot accept a 3G to 4G upgrade, you will lose some of your telematics features with no way to replace them. However, your smartphone can replace some features.

Features related to specific vehicle functions – including remote locking / unlocking, remote engine starting, and maintenance monitoring – will be difficult, expensive, or impossible to replicate.

Others, however, are remarkably easy to replace. The Google Personal Safety application, for example, can detect car accidents and notify emergency services. It is available on many Android smartphones. Apple is said to be working on similar technology for iPhone and Apple Watch users.

The OnStar Guardian app provides mobile crash response and roadside assistance on a $ 15 per month subscription that is available to drivers of any vehicle, not just General Motors models.

You can replace your connected traffic and navigation services by replacing your vehicle’s infotainment main unit with an aftermarket option that supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It also allows you to get Waze, which provides real-time traffic and traffic conditions. Many aftermarket options support Amazon Alexa and its connected services.

Your car’s in-car Wi-Fi hotspot is easy to replace by simply using your smartphone to provide the data connection. Chances are it will work on the much faster 5G cellular network and can serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot for passengers using other mobile devices, such as tablets and e-readers.

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