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Canadian customers confused by analogue deadline

The retirement of analogue signals in the U.S. is imminent, thanks to a February deadline established by the Federal Communications Commission, but some Canadian alarm dealers and users aren’t clear how it might affect their business north of the border.



January 31, 2008
By Neil Sutton

Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS), introduced to North America in
1983, was in use as the standard analogue cellular phone system for
almost 20 years before it began to give way to digital systems like GSM
and CDMA. In 2002, the FCC mandated that as of Feb. 18, 2008, U.S.
cellular carriers were no longer required to support AMPS.

But there is no such deadline in Canada, leaving cellular providers here to set their own timelines.

Most
alarm dealers are aware that they will eventually have to replace older
analogue alarm systems with those that run on digital networks, and
many have already done so, but there remains a haze of confusion.

The problem, says Bill Hefford, operations director at Voxcom, is not one of technology, but of communication.

“I
haven’t seen any material from any of the cell providers,” says
Hefford. “I don’t think they’ve done a great job in communicating it,
because maybe they don’t know.”

Rogers Communications shut down
its AMPS service in June 2007. According to a spokesperson from Bell
Canada, it plans to stop service in November. Telus says its deadline
is Sept. 16. Neither Sasktel nor MTS-Allstream have set a date,
according to sources from the companies.

The retirement of AMPS
will not affect the majority of Canadian cell phone users, since their
phones run on the dominant digital networks, GSM and CDMA. However,
they may not be aware of the ramifications for their home alarm systems.

CANASA
executive director Kenneth Mitchell says he has received numerous
inquiries from people looking for updates on the situation.

“We’ve
had calls here at CANASA, from consumers saying, ‘We don’t understand
this. We’re happy with our analogue system and we think it’s simply the
dealers trying to sell us new high-end equipment that we don’t need,’”
says Mitchell.

“We have had to help the consumers understand
that this is not an alarm/dealer problem, it’s a telecom issue that is
being visited through the supply chain right down to the end user.”

Some
industry professionals have attempted to reach out to consumers through
e-mail updates. Honeywell Security, for example, sent out its most
recent letter on Jan. 17, letting customers know that GSM alternatives
are available through ADI-Burtek.

“Every time we send out a
letter with my name on the bottom, I get phone calls and e-mails,” says
Chris Welling, vice-president of sales at Honeywell Security. “They’re
concerned that it’s out of their control.”

The Jan. 17 letter
lists AMPS retirement dates from several Canadian carriers, but Welling
notes that none of these deadlines are set in stone and may be subject
to change.

Hefford says that Voxcom has responded to the
situation by simply observing the U.S. deadline and not worrying about
how the Canadian telecommunications providers are winding down AMPS
service.

“Our position on it is, we’re moving forward to replace our (AMPS) units by the end of February,” he says.