IoT Blog
IoT Blog

How to Avoid the Chaos of the Impending 2G/3G Sunset

When AT&T turned down its 2G network in 2017, around 70 percent of San Francisco’s buses and trains disappeared from the NextMuni system map, which tracks vehicle locations in real-time and predicts arrival times. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFTMA) then faced weeks of mounting public pressure while it scrambled to upgrade its legacy monitoring devices.

Companies that have deployed Internet of Things (IoT) solutions that rely on 2G and 3G cellular-based devices may soon face a similar disruption. 

The Retirement of 2G and 3G Networks Is Rapidly Approaching 

Major networks in the U.S. and around the world are beginning to sunset their 2G and 3G networks in favor of 4G long-term evolution (LTE) technologies. For example, Verizon CDMA is expected to shut down after December 2019. Other deadlines are noted below in Figure 1 - Network sunset schedule for major US providers. 

This transition will be especially challenging for end-to-end IoT solutions because the carrier technology is typically interlinked with several other components of the platform, including devices, device applications, SIMs, gateways, business applications and cloud platforms. This means failing to start to plan and implement a transition now could result in major business disruption and great pain for customers when critical IoT platforms suddenly go dark.  

4-Step Solution for the Impending 2G/3G Sunset

To avoid the disruption that the impending 2G/3G sunset will cause, Sierra Wireless recommends the following four steps to avoid being left behind:

Step 1: Perform a Comprehensive Audit

Assess the current situation and determine which module, network and solution architecture will be impacted and what it will take to update or replace them—or whether an altogether new technical architecture needs to be built. It’s then critical to build out a realistic implementation timeline. 

A key decision will be whether to move to low-cost LTE-M—a Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technology specifically designed for IoT devices to provide far greater coverage, capacity and battery life—or to wait in the hope that 4G LTE technology costs will come down sufficiently, which also means taking the risk that your IoT transition won’t be completed in time. 

Step 2: Evaluate Your IoT Needs

Companies need to develop a clear understanding of their operational requirements. For example, a company that uses mainly battery-powered devices will benefit most from low power consumption. A company that must track mobile assets through remote regions must be able to maintain connectivity even in these areas. These companies will likely want to select LPWA or satellite connectivity, which is designed to solve the challenges of poor cellular network coverage. Companies that require high data bandwidth or do not need to use battery-powered devices may prefer a 4G LTE solution. In addition to the requirements of the specific application, choosing the right solution will also depend on the business sector, the cellular coverage in those areas and the geographies involved. 

There’s no doubt that performing a comprehensive evaluation of the platform and operational requirements is a highly complex task, requiring a deep understanding of the existing systems and the available solutions. If this expertise is not available in-house, it is essential to find a partner to work with.

Step 3: Future-Proofing: Design for the Long-Term

As disruptive as the current redesign may seem, failing to design long-term for the future can result in an even more complex and costly project down the road as networks capabilities continue to change and technology evolution naturally occurs. For example, a company opting to cope with the Verizon CDMA sunset by transitioning to other 3G networks may see a short-term benefit if it has a relatively small number of devices that are easily accessible or if the IoT devices will be obsolete in a few years anyway. Even so, the company will still need to go through another major project when 3G eventually sunsets – once again incurring high costs for new modules, devices and system architecture, as well as for truck rolls. 

Most companies will benefit today from taking advantage of LPWA technology. LPWA provides an estimated 5 to 10 times better coverage for IoT devices deployed in remote locations, compared to normal LTE, and offers significantly lower power consumption, so these devices can last up to 10 years in service without a battery replacement.

For companies concerned about moving to 4G LTE technology because of the arrival of 5G, it’s important to recognize that 5G is essentially an evolution of 4G, so it is likely companies won’t have to re-architect their solutions. The software interfaces between the two technologies will be largely the same, while the modules will be pin-out compatible. For LPWA cellular modules, a firmware upgrade will likely be sufficient to move to 5G LTE.    

Step 4: Work with a Trusted Partner and True IoT Expert

Choosing the right partner is essential for minimizing the complexity of the transition to new cellular technologies and ensuring a scalable long-term IoT solution. By working with a single partner instead of trying to coordinate multiple vendors and piece together disparate solutions, companies can also ensure that their IoT projects will be managed efficiently and strategically.

Sierra Wireless provides all the building blocks of an IoT solution, from hardware and connectivity services to a unified platform for managing all the company’s devices and connections. Sierra can help companies deploy their products over any cellular network with design assistance, technology expertise, and a comprehensive solution portfolio. Sierra also offers the most comprehensive portfolio of wireless devices, including 2G, 3G and 4G embedded modules in a common flexible form factor; rugged cellular gateways and routers; Smart SIMs and connectivity services; and secure device management and cloud services. Sierra Wireless offers a flexibility that no other provider can—you can choose to build or buy you IoT solution, depending on your own unique situation.

Read the whitepaper, How to Manage the Approaching CDMA/2G/3G IoT Device Sunset, and Start with Sierra to learn more on how you can transition away from 2G and 3G technologies and build a robust IoT infrastructure you can use to thrive in our increasingly connected economy.