Over 350,000 trucks in the US in the dark with 3G phase-out

Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2022

New York—Global technology intelligence firm ABI Research said more than 350,000 Class 8 vehicles and many connected cold-chain trailers could be left in the dark with AT&T’s plans to sunset its 3G network, meaning its modules and devices that use the 3G voice and data services will no longer work.

Many countries are also transitioning from 4G network to the more powerful and faster 5G network which could have major impact on the transport and other industries worldwide.

AT& T is scheduled to sunset its 3G network on 22 February and this could have a crippling effect on more than 350,000 trucks that are essential to the already strained supply chain, ABI pointed out.

Of the estimated 3.97 million Class 8 trucks in the United States, approximately 3.8 million are employed by smaller fleets. These smaller fleets are more likely to have delayed the transition from 3G to 4G devices, many of which require Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) compliance via Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs).

“It is entirely likely that many fleets that have not yet transitioned will be unable to purchase, remove, and replace devices prior to February 22. 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,” warns Susan Beardslee, Supply Chain and Logistics Principal Analyst at ABI Research.

The transition also has significant ramifications for cross-border trade with Canada and Mexico, as both countries have delayed their 3G sunsets to mid-decade. Should these North American partners enter the U.S. after February 22, the fleets using current AT&T 3G devices will no longer be able to transmit or receive data between drivers and dispatch. This will also include linked devices, such as video telematics.

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

The 3G to 4G transition has come at a time of tremendous constraints and exponentially higher prices for the global semiconductor supply. The 3G sunset is a multi-organization, public, and private issue.

Beyond a reprieve from the carrier, other options include a temporary ELD exemption from the FMCSA as they did for pandemic-related needs.  Longer-term, as connectivity and ADAS advance, more telematics will come factory/line-fit/OEM-grade with the unit pre-installed. Future scenarios to consider are modular hardware designs and hardware upgradeability, eSIM software, and greater inventory planning in advance.