Network changes will impact the reliability of remote worker emergency communication devices.

By 2023 most of the U.S. if not all of the country will have completed the 5G cellular transition, eliminating older 2G and 3G networks.
By 2023 most of the U.S. if not all of the country will have completed the 5G cellular transition, eliminating older 2G and 3G networks.

By: Chris Holbert, CEO of mobile safety solutions provider SecuraTrac (www.securatrac.com)

The world is consuming more data than ever before. Nearly every industry now relies on smart phones, cloud services and digital communications to execute efficient business operations. Increasing data demands have made it necessary for telecommunications companies to upgrade digital infrastructure. Enter 5G, which is designed to deliver data at faster speeds while also address the ever-increasing demand for more bandwidth and data traffic. Transitioning to 5G does create complications, however. Any business that relies on mobile personal emergency response systems (mPERS) to ensure the safety of lone workers could be losing coverage.

What are mPERS

mPERS can describe a variety of different types of devices from watches to pendants to small simple function phones. What makes these devices unique is they all feature an easy-to-use SOS button that a lone worker can press in case of emergency to reach a supervisor or even an emergency call service that can respond to the event. Some mPERS devices also have fall detection capabilities that can automatically trigger a call for help. And thanks to cellular connectivity, these personal emergency response systems are able to provide protection anywhere. For now, that is.

Why does 5G matter

As telecom providers prepare to upgrade networks to new 5G capabilities and remove 3G services, some of these devices may become obsolete. Many panic button devices were designed using 3G or even 2G and EDGE technologies because the data being transferred by the device is light and doesn’t require the higher speeds of a 4G network, let alone 5G.  As networks are upgraded, 2G and 3G devices could lose coverage and become less reliable. This is because telecom companies will be trading out the 2G and 3G technologies on cell phone towers for faster 4G and 5G technologies. mPERS devices operating on 2G or 3G networks will not be compatible with the new network speeds and their functionality could experience drops in coverage in areas where 2G and 3G coverage no longer exists.  

Verizon eliminated its 3G networks at the end of 2020, and AT&T is working through a plan to sunset 3G by 2022. Ericsson, an information communication technology company that installs 5G technologies on cell phone towers, predicts that by 2023 twenty percent of the world’s population will have 5G coverage.  While the cellular upgrades will infinitely speed up heavy data transfers like streaming video, the problem that exists for the mPERS industry and end users is that 4G and 5G devices have yet to be widely introduced to the mass market.  

How will mPERS be affected

The basic functionality of panic button devices has not required rapid advancement of the technology that powers their operation. This and other factors affecting the mPERS industry have resulted in a device drought and slow efforts to upgrade older 3G mPERS devices.  Now, mPERS manufacturers are forced to catch up with changing networking standards in order to continue to provide reliable devices that businesses can implement to keep lone workers safe and connected.

What can companies do

As the 5G transition takes place, businesses that rely on mPERS devices to protect the well-being of lone workers need to know if the devices they have deployed will continue to be operational. This can be accomplished by contacting the device manufacturer or the company providing monitoring services for the device. If it is discovered that devices are operating on 2G or 3G networks, it would be wise to upgrade the mPERS devices as soon as possible. Discuss options with service providers to turn in existing devices for 4G models.  

For existing devices that are currently in use, implementing a regular testing schedule to ensure the devices are operational and have coverage is imperative. Weekly, devices should be triggered to ensure that SOS messages are being transmitted. This simple test only takes a few seconds and can determine if backup safety measures need to be taken or if the mPERS devices can continue be relied on. Users may find that mPERS devices being used in more rural areas will continue to have 2G or 3G coverage, while those in urban areas will lose coverage sooner. This is simply because of the tendency for telecom companies to upgrade towers in urban areas with dense populations and large business centers first.  

Transitioning from 2G or 3G panic buttons to 4G devices could come with an added cost. But it is an essential upgrade to ensure ongoing protection. New mPERS devices can also do more than monitor for falls, location and place emergency SOS calls. These new devices can also be capable of monitoring heart rate, ECG, temperature and other vital signs that can support improved employee health monitoring, creating opportunities for employers to identify potentially dangerous physical environments, proactively react and better protect the health and safety of lone workers and all employees.

chris holbert securatrac
Chris Holbert

Chris Holbert is the CEO of SecuraTrac. As the CEO, he is responsible for leading the company’s vision of developing, marketing, and selling a suite of mobile health and safety solutions that bring families closer together and improve employee safety through state-of-the-art location-based services and mobile health technology.