Analog Satellite Technology Goes the Way of the Dodo

Dennis Faas's picture

Do you subscribe to OnStar or use an old analog-based cellular phone?

This next story might have you fuming.

For those of us old enough to remember the coming of the Motorola Flip phone and its predecessors, analog satellite technology was the original network that made the cellular phone possible. In fact, some people argue that an analog phone is superior because it gets better reception and clarity than current digital technologies.

Nevertheless -- if you are the owner of one of these devices, the end is near. As of February 2008, the analog phone network is scheduled to be shutdown per U.S. federal legislation enacted in 2002. (Source:

Some smaller providers may maintain their networks to service rural customers who still need the better range and reception that analog provides. Of the main cell phone companies, only AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless and Alltel have analog customers, and approximately one million cell phones are still in use on those networks. (Source:

While the cell phone changeover won't matter much to most, some devices will become obsolete as well. Perhaps the most troublesome for consumers will be the loss of the analog-only version of the popular car communication system OnStar. Some people will be able to upgrade their cars to digital for a nominal fee; however, approximately 500,000 vehicles will lose service after February 18, 2008 -- a result that has some people raging mad.

A lawsuit has been filed in Detroit against GM, the maker of OnStar. The suit was brought by Robert Weaver of Virginia, and seeks compensation for vehicles that will most likely have significantly lower resale values once their communication systems become obsolete. (Source:

According to a report from The Detroit News, Weaver claims that GM continued to sell analog-only systems after the law was passed and did not disclose to consumers that their communication systems were to be phased out.

GM released a statement claiming it had done the best it could to upgrade as many systems as possible, and for those who cannot upgrade the company will provide a year of free OnStar service on any new vehicle leased or purchased by the end of 2007.

While it is inevitable that old technologies will make way for new ones, the lawsuit highlights how troubling these changes can be for consumers. In an interview with the Associated Press, Chris Purpura, senior vice president of marketing at Aeris Communications, mused that a similar phase out may be on the horizon: General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), which is home to second-generation digital devices may be next in line to be phased out -- a technology with a customer base estimated to be 10 times larger than that of the analog network.

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