Last Call: Analog Cell Phone Service Disappearing

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No Cell Left Behind?

Among cell-phone subscribers, the analog sunset is most likely to hurt so-called "glove-box users," says IDC analyst Scott Ellison. These are users, often elderly, who just keep a cell phone in the glove box in case their cars break down. They usually don't feel a need to update their handsets.

"If you know that you have some kind of wireless link or wireless communications device and you're unsure whether you are affected, call your service provider," Ellison advises. A tip about phones: "If it has a color screen, you should be fine," he said.

AICC's Fiore gives similar advice. Some consumers have ignored potential problems with alarms because they confused the analog cellular shutdown with the end of analog TV, which won't happen until next February, he notes. If you notify your alarm provider and they are prepared to go digital, all a service person will have to do is come into your home and replace the alarm's radio, possibly moving it to another part of the house with better GSM coverage, Fiore says.

The problems associated with the analog shutdown point to a mismatch in the life cycles of different technologies, IDC's Ellison explains. Cars and home appliances often stick around for many years, while wireless communications has been evolving more quickly.

Other problems can hold back switchovers. For example, Illinois Valley Cellular, in rural Marseilles, Illinois, serves few analog phone users but plans to keep its analog network running after February 18. That's because the wind turbines that generate electricity in its service area still use AMPS radios to exchange operating data, according to IVC data routing manager Pam Craig. Replacing those radios would be difficult and expensive.

But as new technologies come along--technologies such as cellular networks that use scarce radio spectrum more efficiently--the old often has to give way, Ellison points out. As technology continues to advance--and advance rapidly--will such obsolescence again overtake the wireless networks we take for granted now?

"It probably will," he says.

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