Tuesday, February 15, 2022

US Truckers Must Beware the 3G Rug Being Pulled Out from Under Them

End of System Draws Nigh with Fears Many Will Not Have Updated
Shipping News Feature

US – Remember Y2K? The computer disaster that never happened? Well at least one company can see a similar problem on a smaller scale about to happen, potentially to hundreds of thousands of truckers the length and breadth of the country.

With offices in New York, London and Singapore, ABI Research, which runs a global technology research operation, seems convinced that the planned ‘sunsetting’ (that's shutting down to you and I) of the AT&T 3G network on 22 February will cause major problems for thousands of trucking firms.

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).

ABI says that the shutting down of the system could have a crippling effect on more than 350,000 Class 8 vehicles and many connected cold-chain trailers, vehicles that are essential to the already strained supply chain. 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 US 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. AT&T have been advising private and business customers to upgrade their mobile phones for some time.

The 3G to 4G transition has come at a time of tremendous constraints and exponentially higher prices for the global semiconductor supply prompting Susan Beardslee, Supply Chain and Logistics Principal Analyst at ABI Research to point out that some telematics providers have leveraged their engineering resources to redesign products multiple times to align with available product. Others have allocation challenges and six-month lead times from their suppliers with many legacy commercial telematics suppliers having the largest fleets to transition (many top 10 globally).

The 3G sunset is a complex multi-organisation, 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. Susan Beardslee concludes:

“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.

“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. Let’s hope that when an inevitable 4G shutdown occurs in the future, telematics companies and fleets will be better prepared.”

Photo: Courtesy of the Volvo Group.