5G has officially arrived, and as the new comes in, the old
goes out – and that’s as true for networks as for anything else. The 3G network
sunset is the turning off of those networks, as mobile network operators shift
spectrum, the lifeblood of cellular, to 4G LTE and 5G. Why are operators making
this change? So that they can re-use their 3G spectrum holdings to add more
capacity on their LTE networks as well as to expand their 5G networks. That
means challenges ahead for internet of things devices which rely on 3G
There are more than 80 million existing 3G devices using
current networks in North America alone, most of which are IoT devices
operating on national carriers’ networks. These devices serve a wide variety of
purposes, from home security systems to in-vehicle telematics units to
emergency call boxes and many others, according to Ken Bednasz, vice president
of application engineering for Telit. All of those devices will have to
transition to 4G connectivity in order to continue operating – and the timeline
for the 3G sunset means that transition planning and execution is urgent.
Verizon has said publicly that it plans to retire its CDMA network at the end
of this year, and the other operators are expected to follow suit over the next
two to three years.
Companies with 3G IoT deployments need to begin planning now
for the 3G network sunset, so that they can transition to the next generation
of IoT devices smoothly and without disruption. But the networks won’t be
turned off all at once, so there will be carrier-to-carrier and
region-to-region differences to navigate.
Where does an IoT transition from 3G to 4G start? The first
step is answering some basic questions about the existing device base,
according to Bednasz. Those questions include:
-What type of cellular connectivity do your devices use?
This question applies not just data connectivity, but voice capabilities as
well — because many early-generation and mid-generation LTE devices were
deployed which rely on LTE for data but fall back to 3G for voice services.
-Who provides that connectivity? While some operators have
stopped activating 3G devices, others continue to do so – so just because you
activated a device recently, doesn’t mean it will continue to work past the 3G
network sunset. And whereas a sunset date establishes the end of the operator’s
commitment to keeping the network on, it does not mean that between now and the
sunset date, networks will remain operating at full capacity. As usage
declines, operators groom away spectrum gradually so that at the end there may
be very little 3G capacity left.
Once you have the answer to those two questions, you have a
basis on which to move forward with selecting a partner who can help with your
transition. You can also begin the process of selecting which new LTE
technology to move to, based on the connectivity requirements of your device
base – and that’s an opportunity to improve capabilities or customer
experience. Bednasz urged those with an IoT installed base to contact Telit for
a design review and technical recommendations with one of its in-house experts.
“We have folks available to talk to you and see what is new
from 3G to the next wave of technology, so you won’t get caught in the
transition without knowing what’s happening,” Bednasz said.
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