Published October 29, 2020
Even though it was almost 20 years ago, many can still remember when our phones switched from 2G to 3G. A CNN article from 2002 said the following:
“3G technology has been touted by analysts as the “next big thing” in wireless phones, allowing users to send documents, surf the web, view graphics and streaming video, download music and even video-conference over mobile phones.”
Our phones are all running 4G/LTE now and the commercials on TV have already started touting 5G. However, progress comes with tradeoffs and in order to move to 5G, something needs to go and that something is 3G. There is only so much wireless spectrum to go around. So, in order to support 4G and 5G networks, the 2G and 3G networks needed to be repurposed.
In 2019, Verizon, followed by AT&T and T-Mobile, started taking down 3G spectrum and towers, leading to a degradation of the 3G network. While the final shutdown is not due until February of 2022, the reliability of these networks has already started to decrease as towers have already started coming down.
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of 3G devices out in the field – from alarm systems to IoT sensors. Included in that list are medical alert systems. If you have a medical alert program, your members will be directly impacted by this technology change.
While many medical alert users still have in-home landline systems that connect directly into a phone line, the growth of VoIP phone systems and cord-cutters who eliminated their home phone lines greatly increased the number of members with in-home cellular devices. Plus, almost all the mobile medical alert devices sent out over the last few years run on the 3G network.
For most companies with a medical alert program, at least 50% of the users have a device that will need to be upgraded to one that runs on the LTE network.
4G LTE technology is better and faster than the generation that came before it. Specifically, it offers faster connectivity and more data transfer both inside and outside the home. In addition to providing a more reliable service, the 4G LTE network paves the way for exciting advancements in the use of medical alert devices.
The combination of Bluetooth technology built into a medical alert device and the enhancement of the cellular network that comes with 4G LTE holds promise for managing more healthcare in the home. Many medical alert devices are now also acting as Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) hubs. Devices such as blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters, glucose meters and weight scales allow patients and medical professionals to monitor vital signs without expensive doctor’s office visits.
The increased bandwidth available on the 4G LTE network also allows for other sensors to also be paired with cellular medical alert devices. Motion sensors can now unobtrusively track Activities of Daily Living (ADL)–such as walking and location of activities in the home–to help recognize potential health issues early. In addition, new sensors using 4D imaging technology can identify changes in gait and even identify falls.
While most of the work to upgrade your members should be done by your medical alert company, you aren’t completely out of the woods. Your participation will be critical to a successful transition.
The official 3G sunset date is February, 2022, so you’ve got plenty of time, right? WRONG! As stated above, 3G cell towers are already coming down, and without much advance warning. To avoid any disruptions in this life safety equipment, you should be starting this process now. There will inevitably be snags and hiccups in this transition and so advance planning now will save headaches later.
The 4G LTE Upgrade provides you the ideal opportunity to determine if your medical alert provider is the one for you moving forward. Not every company offering medical alert systems is going to get this right. Partnering with the right company that has a solid upgrade strategy could be the difference between success and failure—where failure is not an option.
There are two key elements to review as part of this transition:
1. Equipment: Your PERS partner needs to have LTE cellular devices for customers who want an in-home or a mobile solution. Don’t assume that your current PERS provider has a full LTE product suite. Even some large, very well-known national companies do not have mobile LTE products available even as we move towards 2021.
You need a provider that can offer at least some devices that work on the AT&T and Verizon networks. While both networks are robust and nationwide, there are some geographies where one carrier performs significantly better than the other.
Of course, you should also use this opportunity to review other product features, especially benefits like bluetooth connectivity that will continue to grow in importance and provide critical future-proofing.
2. Transition Plan: All PERS providers are thinking about the 3G Sunset and 4G/LTE Upgrade for their own customers. However, only a select few have thought about how to best help you manage your members. This includes scripts and educational materials for your team, as you know that many of the questions from your members will come to your staff. Plus, make sure that your PERS provider is offering realistic timelines for the transition and has a clear plan for how and when they will be communicating with your members.
The member communications should be targeted to your audience. Are they more sophisticated and would benefit from text messages? Or, are they old-school and want to read about it in a letter. Maybe they need a Zoom call to see the difference in equipment before it arrives. Most likely, the communication plan is going to involve a mix of phone calls, letters and more. So, make sure your PERS partner is ready to message your members in the way that they want to be messaged. There is no one-size-fits all approach to something this important.