Not all carriers prepared for the sunset of analog

After February 2008, cellular networks may discontinue providing analog mobile phone service (AMPS) due to the expiration of a key law from the Federal Communications Commission. Having known about this event for several years, providers of analog-based mobile communications technology for commercial and private fleets have converted their products to digital cellular and satellite-based networks.

Still, the transition has not been easy for all carriers.

“We have been using AirIQ for five years to track trailers and to report reefer faults but this is to be discontinued,” says Rusty Heiston, information systems manager for D&D Sexton Inc., a refrigerated truckload carrier based in Carthage, Mo. The AirIQ units the company purchased five years ago all had analog modems in them. “We are stuck with 160 boat anchors and nothing budgeted to replace them with.”

Like other companies that originally used the analog cellular network, AirIQ is not canceling its service altogether, says Ann Taylor, vice president of commercial fleets for AirIQ. It is working with customers to transition to its latest technology.

“Any units on the analog network will be cancelled, but we are transitioning to a different device – either satellite or cellular,” she says. Trailer tracking devices typically have a 5-year lifespan, she says, so companies like D&D Sexton that purchased the analog trailer tracking system are due to replace the technology anyway.

In the mid 1990s, PeopleNet originally entered the trucking market with an analog-based onboard computing and mobile communications platform called the g2x. In 2003, the company introduced its next-generation g3 with dual-mode digital and analog service. But the transition will require customers to make another investment. To date, the g2x still accounts for between 13 and 14,000 of the 70,000 PeopleNet units on the road today, said Ron Konezny, chief executive officer, at the company’s recent user conference in Hilton Head, S.C.

The company continues to rapidly develop new applications that are only available on the g3 platform, since they require more bandwidth and onboard processing power. As a result, management anticipates that most customers will convert to the new platform in advance of February 2008 because it offers a greater return on investment.

“Analog is not going to go away completely in February 2008, but it will rapidly move to digital,” said Brian McLaughlin, executive vice president of marketing. “In some markets, cellular network providers will move all of their capacity over to digital. Both networks will continue to play a critical part of the process into the future.”