Saying Goodbye to 2G: What About Your Telematics?

June 9, 2016

Although your smartphone may be well entrenched in the world of 4G, your equipment’s communications capabilities, particularly if you use a third-party provider for telematics, may not be.

Verizon and AT&T are winding down their support for 2G (they call it “sunsetting”) and encouraging customers to migrate to 4G, a faster network with far more capacity. AT&T has been active in sending reminders to 2G customers, even though the official network turn down isn’t until January 1, 2017; however, it also warns that it may turn down some markets in their entirety before 2017.

If you have an older “black box,” you’re likely at risk, because AT&T and Verizon are carrying the bulk of third-party providers’ data. Construction sites and machines are becoming increasingly interconnected and—like your fleet—these network services can’t be caught standing still in the face of demand.

In a 2015 white paper, the KORE Wireless Group reported on an Analysis Mason forecast that the number of M2M (machine-to-machine) device connections will grow from 200 million (2013) to 2.2 billion devices in 2023. It’s no wonder that faster, broader networks will be required.

Of the number of currently connected M2M devices, more than 90 percent are on older 2G networks. AT&T has the largest 2G GSM network in the nation with over 15 million connected devices. Its decision to decommission 2G, along with the shuttered networks of other carriers in the next 10 years, could potentially require companies to replace an estimated 10 to 12 million 2G GPRS devices at a cost of several billion dollars in a two-year span, the forecast concludes.

It all adds up to the fact that if you’re on 2G, at some point you’ll likely have to spend capital to install new devices. There are some options in the interim, and KORE spells them out.

  • Stay on 2G GSM using another carrier for new activations. Some companies have a continued commitment to 2G. As a global option, Telefonica, EE and Rogers will have 2G up and running for the distant future. This option would require a SIM swap, which is likely the most inexpensive option.
  • Migrate to Sprint 2G CDMA (1xRTT). Sprint is providing modules to facilitate the migration from GSM to CDMA.
  • Upgrade devices to 3G GSM. While a jump to 3G may just delay an eventual jump to a 4G LTE product, 3G is a practical and very viable alternative to 2G, particularly if the devices come in for periodic service or have an in-field service range of less than 10 years.
  • LTE has quickly become the option of choice. While module costs are still a bit more, they are quickly declining with the release of new products.

KORE says that to prepare effectively for the 2G sunset, you need to understand how they are vulnerable. Start by understanding what carrier your 2G devices are using and how long that carrier is planning to support them. Contact the provider to understand their roadmap for the sunset and to ensure you are protected for an appropriate timeframe on that network.

When deciding whether to upgrade (to 3G in the interim, or 4G), KORE advises to make sure you’re conscious of what affect the potentially more expensive hardware can have on your ROI. Ask yourself if that transition makes sense.