On February 18, 2008, the “Analog to Digital Transition” FCC directive will go into effect. This means that all of the telephone companies will shut down their analog wireless services. The ruling was based on the determination by the FCC that the operating costs accrued by keeping the analog services working were not beneficial to the telcos or customers.

Makes sense, because…

The money spent on analog services will be better spent on research or providing better digital wireless service. It also will free up precious wireless spectrum that can be used for digital wireless services. Everyone knows that digital wireless is better than analog wireless, it uses less bandwidth, provides better sounding connections, service is substantially more reliable and digital wireless provides many advanced services that are not even possible when using an analog phone service. Besides, just about everyone already owns or uses a digital cell phone.

Sprint and T-Mobile customers will not notice any kind of disruption or change in service as Sprint and T-Mobile are exclusively digital wireless service providers already. AT&T, Verizon, Alltel, and US Cellular are the wireless providers that still have live analog wireless services. Being responsible, the FCC mandated that these carriers must notify their customers at least four months in advance and again thirty days in advance of the analog wireless service shutdown. To their credit, the telcos have been very responsive in notifying customers. The providers are also trying very hard to retain these existing customers by providing free digital phones and special digital plans.

Sounds great, but…

There are approximately 1 million alarm systems installed before 2006 that use 800MHz analog wireless connections for the primary or backup link to the security company. How is this going to affect the customers that have analog alarm systems? These systems will have to be replaced with systems that use digital wireless as the primary link to the security company or if the analog wireless link is a backup, it could just be disabled if the company was willing to assume the additional risk.

Motor vehicle communication systems will also be affected. For example, TelAid from Mercedes Benz or Lexus Link are two affected systems that apparently will not accept any kind of upgrade to digital wireless. OnStar is another vehicle communications system that is dramatically affected by the shutdown of the analog wireless service. Actually OnStar is being proactive, as of January 1, 2008 General Motors has shut off all analog vehicle wireless communication systems. This shutdown affects vehicles with OnStar systems that were built before 2006. Upgrade kits are available for vehicles made between 2004 and 2005, but vehicles made before 2004 are out of luck as those OnStar systems are not upgradeable.

Final thoughts

The shutting down of the analog wireless network is affecting many people in a negative way, but I suggest that almost all of us are used to this. Technology continues to advance at an ever-increasing pace, creating shorter life cycles for products. Actually the lifetime of the analog wireless service could be considered quite lengthy and productive as the process of moving to digital wireless was evolutionary. One just has to consider the BetaMax versus VHS debate or even more recently the Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD controversy when talking about short life cycles. According to very recent news, it appears that people who have joined the HD-DVD ranks may have wished they had thought other-wise.