3G networks and your car

Though this really isn’t a Mac or iPhone or iPad issue, it is a good bet that you have a car. And a shutdown, today, of AT&T’s 3G network may disable dashboard telemetry, GPS navigation, the infotainment system, or a combination of all the above, on your car.

Virtually all car manufacturers (Tesla is an exception) entirely outsource their car computer hardware and software sourcing and development. Car manufacturers build cars, and while the cars may be full of computer chips, none of them are designed by the car manufacturers, and virtually all of the software comes from third-party vendors and contractors. This will probably change rapidly in the next few years because of — what happens today.

The FCC has been trying, for many years, to shut down the 3G telephone wireless system, and use that part of the electromagnetic spectrum for other purposes. Corporate lobbyists have pushed, repeatedly, for the shutdown deadlines to be pushed back, and have even funded advertising on television and radio telling of the horrors caused by such a shutdown. Forget, for the moment, that the rest of the world made such changes years ago without causing disaster.

But today, the shutdown of AT&T’s 3G network may disable a wide variety of systems on your car, ranging from your radio to your crash notification system. Consumer Reports has a detailed article about how this can disable the crash notification system in many cars,


The Drive compiled a list of specific models affected by this change:


“But,” you say, “I don’t use my car’s navigation system. I use CarPlay!” Unfortunately, CarPlay, while it is driven by your iPhone, uses your car’s built-in navigation system in order to work, and if your built-in navigation system is disabled, CarPlay won’t work, either.

For car owners, this is a problem that can’t be fixed by taking your car to the dealer and getting a software patch. The root problem is that the manufacturer built the car with an embedded 3G modem, which means there is a physical component of your car that needs to be replaced. As the physical component also requires compatible software, which may not even exist, this is a serious issue.

Add in a pandemic-prompted worldwide shortage of computer chips (which includes chips used for 4G and 5G modems), plus the need for software that may not even exist, a fix may not be realistically possible.