February 14, 2008, 8:23 PM — You may think of sunsets as something nice to look at, but if you have an older
cell phone or a home alarm system, there's one coming up on Monday that may
not be so pretty.
That day, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission will let mobile operators
shut down their analog networks. It's called the "analog sunset" because
those AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System) networks, which were first deployed
in the 1980s and brought cellular service to millions of Americans, will finally
disappear behind the digital networks that serve almost all mobile phones in
The biggest U.S. mobile operators, AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless,
will close down their analog networks that day. At the same time, AT&T will
turn off its first digital network, which uses TDMA (Time-Division Multiple
Access) technology. (Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA don't have analog networks.)
Calls to some small, rural mobile operators indicated that most of them plan
to shut down AMPS, too.
There aren't many mobile phones out there that will go dark after the analog
sunset, according to the big carriers, which have been warning subscribers about
the change for months and offering them incentives to switch over.
"We're talking about a very, very small number of customers here,"
said AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel. He estimated that 99.9 percent of AT&T's
traffic is carried on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications). Verizon
spokeswoman Debra Lewis estimated that less than 1 percent of that carrier's
subscribers were on analog even before it started a big effort to reach them
last year. Neither gave exact numbers of subscribers. But given that those operators
have about 60 million subscribers each, the number might still be in the hundreds
However, AMPS isn't only used for cell phones. Many alarm companies use the
system to alert police or fire departments to emergencies at homes or businesses.
About three years ago, the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) industry
group took a survey which revealed that just under 1 million of the approximately
30 million monitored home and business alarm systems used an analog cellular
network, said AICC chairman Louis Fiore. About 850,000 of them used the system
only as a backup in case the phone line was cut, he said.
Alarm manufacturers are now replacing many of those analog systems with digital
ones, Fiore said. About six months ago, the manufacturers believed there were
about 400,000 AMPS systems still in the field, he said.
"There are some small companies out there that probably have not made
the conversion yet," Fiore said.