FCC issues consumer advisory on AMPS sunset

Thursday, October 11, 2007

WASHINGTON--On Oct. 1, the FCC finally satisfied some in the alarm industry by issuing a consumer advisory regarding the upcoming Feb. 18, 2008, analog cellular sunset. Though it's somewhat buried on the FCC's Web site, alarm companies now have a trusted government source to point out for customers who may be confused as to why their alarm system's cellular backup radio needs to be replaced with a digital solution.
Just days before the announcement, Steve Shapiro, director of strategic product planning at ADT, lamented the lack of action on the part of the FCC from the ASIS International floor: "The FCC published their denial of our request for an extension in June and still hasn't put this up on their Web site," he said at the time. "If we could give customers a .gov link, that would help communication and help our reliability with the customer. The alarm industry is absolutely concerned that the alarm industry is doing all the notification and we're not seeing it from other sources."
In the consumer notification, the FCC groups alarm owners with others who "rely on cellular radio equipment," like those who may have an older version of the OnStar in-vehicle service, in alerting those who might be affected to the fact that cellular telephone companies will no longer be required to provide analog service. Later, in a paragraph directed at alarm owners, the FCC estimates that roughly one million of the 26 million alarm system owners in the United States will be affected. This jibes with Shapiro's estimates.
"In many cases," the warning says, "if you have an analog alarm radio that has not been replaced and the analog wireless network stops operating, the radio will emit a 'beep' or warning tone." This gets at the heart of Shapiro's worries.
"As the industry knows," he said, "when the analog towers do get shut off, any systems that have not been changed will go into a trouble mode, and as an industry we have to avoid large amounts of customers going into trouble mode all at the same time. We have to work as much as possible."
Both AT&T and Verizon have stated in public documents that they intend to turn off the analog network essentially as soon as they are able, which means midnight of Feb. 19, 2008, to most observers. "The industry has to assume that it's the whole analog network being turned off at the same time," said Shapiro. "We have no alternative."
Shapiro urges alarm company owners to do everything in their power to switch out the cellular radios before the deadline. He understands that many system owners are confused with the analog-to-digital switchover that will happen for televisions in 2009; many customers think the two switchovers are one and the same, and have been sold the 2009 date by their trips to Best Buy or other consumer electronics outlets trying to push digital television sets.
Companies can now point customers to the FCC site (www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/analogcellphone.html), and Shapiro advised alarm companies to take any opportunity to switch out radios, even if they are at a location for a different service call.
Otherwise, "it's not inconceivable that there could be hundreds of thousands of radios that are not swapped out by 2008," he postulated. That's a lot of alarm systems in trouble mode, and that might mean the alarm industry is in trouble mode as well.