The clock is ticking down on the usefulness of devices based on 3G technology and Melissa Brinkman is sounding the alarm.

All of the nation's Internet providers are transitioning their towers to 5G, which means many 3G devices still in use will soon become obsolete.

That’s a challenge for businesses like Rochester’s Custom Alarm. Many of its clients are still using now-outdated 3G technology to monitor their home security, fire alarms and even health alert monitors.

Custom Alarm Chief Executive Brinkman said her firm has been telling customers, particularly those that use AT&T, that they need to update for the past year and half. However, it has been a hard time to convince clients to make an upgrade.

“I think there’s some upgrade fatigue,” said Brinkman.

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The looming deadline for businesses that still use 3G devices is just five months away in February 2022. That’s when AT&T plans to transition to 5G ending the usefulness of 3G devices. Verizon, the other provider that Custom Alarm customers use, has moved its transition back to 2023.

It’s certainly not just Custom Alarm that is scrambling. That’s why the national Monitoring Association, which includes Custom Alarm as a member, is petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to make AT&T to delay its transition.

That’s not something AT&T plans to do.

“Each new generation of wireless network upgrades generates new investment, jobs and innovative services. This petition would undermine the evolution to 5G, as it seeks to force us to devote scarce spectrum resources to support relatively few, obsolete 3G-only devices rather than repurposing the spectrum to enhance 5G capacity,” stated an AT&T representative for this article. “Forcing a delay would needlessly waste valuable spectrum resources and degrade network performance for millions of our customers.”

Custom Alarm monitors about 5,500 customers mostly in a 90-mile radius of Rochester. While the majority of those customers have updated their equipment and others using Verizon are unaffected, Brinkman still has at least 200 clients in danger of losing monitoring access in February.

“I take that like really seriously. There's a lot of pressure,” she said. “I know and interact with the majority of our customers in the community. I take the gravity of this very personally.”

For those out-of-date customers, Custom Alarm might not get a message notifying them of a fire alarm or a water leak or a home intrusion. The alarm would go off in the house or business, but Custom Alarm’s monitoring team wouldn’t be notified.

Technology transitions are always tricky and often uneven in the best of times. The end of 2021 is not the best of times.

“All of us are trying to, number one, convey to our customers the urgency; number two, figure out how we can get it done with the labor and the limited access into people's homes and businesses, and number three, we've got this extra layer of challenge with the chip shortage,” said Brinkman.

Ordering devices for her team of 66 employees to install requires at lot more planning. In the past, an order would be filled in a day or two. While it is better than in the early days of the pandemic, it might take weeks for a device to arrive today.