Last Call: Analog Cell Phone Service Disappearing

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Ring the Alarm

AMPS isn't used only for cell phones. Many alarm companies employ the system to alert police or fire departments to emergencies occurring at homes or businesses. About three years ago, the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC), an industry group, took a survey that revealed just under 1 million of the approximately 30 million monitored home and business alarm systems used an analog cellular network, says AICC chairman Louis Fiore. About 850,000 of them used the system only as a backup in case the phone line was cut, he adds.

Alarm manufacturers are now replacing many of those analog systems with digital ones, Fiore says. About six months ago, the manufacturers believed there were about 400,000 AMPS systems still in the field, he notes.

"There are some small companies out there that probably have not made the conversion yet," Fiore says.

One problem, Fiore explains, is that, except for a few high-end CDMA monitoring systems, all digital cellular alarms today rely on GSM. (CDMA is Code-Division Multiple Access.) That creates a problem in areas that have good CDMA coverage but poor GSM, and Fiore says he has heard from at least one alarm company in Colorado that has customers outside GSM's reach. Until now, those customers have been relying on analog cellular.

Some Road Bumps

Certain users of wireless roadside assistance have also been left behind in the transition. General Motors launched its OnStar system in 1996 on AMPS and later switched to CDMA. The automaker didn't wait for the February 18 deadline but instead shut down its analog service on January 1. In a statement on the transition last year, GM said about 90 percent of its subscribers' cars had CDMA or could be converted to use it. Others would lose their OnStar service. The wholly owned subsidiary of GM said last October that it had about 5 million subscribers.

Last March, two OnStar customers in Pennsylvania, Robert and Sarah Gordon, sued GM for leaving analog subscribers behind. They are seeking damages and an injunction to force OnStar and GM to provide repairs or upgrades, and they want to turn the suit into a class action. It has been consolidated with a handful of other actions in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

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