Sun Sets on 2G Telematics

July 7, 2016

If you were among the early adopters of asset-monitoring devices and systems for your equipment fleet, you've benefitted from your smart decision. However, time and technology wait for no man and some of those telematic systems may quit working January 1, 2017.

AT&T is on schedule to shut down its entire North American 2G network by December 31, 2016. AT&T calls this network shutdown process "sunsetting." Old 2G technology network towers are being retired or upgraded to AT&T's HSPA+ and LTE networks. You might have noticed some lag or reporting outages as the company makes these changes. AT&T says the dramatic increase in data transmission necessitates the upgrade. In parts of the country with heavy data use, 2G networks are already sunsetted.  Other Tier 1 carriers are following suit.

Truck and equipment fleets using older or less expensive 2G technology for asset tracking need to take steps to upgrade their system to be compatible with the migration to 3G and eventually to 4G LTE technology for heavy data transmission. For example, as AT&T switches from 2G to 3G, fleets using the older 2G technology will lose connectivity of both voice and data. Other carriers, including T-Mobile, have promised to continue 2G service until 2020.

2G To-do List

  • Touch base with your telematic service provider to find out what parts of your GPS asset tracking system are subject to 2G interruption and your options with that provider.  Even hardware installed 4 years ago can be vulnerable.
  • Determine where your 2G technology lives. You can have one telecom company billing you for all of your communication systems, but the 2G switch may only affect some of your devices. (Cell phones with 2G, G, GSM, GPRS, E or EDGE at the top of the screen, it is a 2G device.)
  • Look at your aftermarket or telemetry service provider's GPS tracking units located on vehicles, stationary equipment, and other assets. Telogis posts a list of common tracking and telemetry devices here.
  • Ask your provider if those units can be reconfigured or swapped out for 3G compatible units.
  • See if the device manufacturer or distributor has a solution that will upgrade or replace the 2G technology in the device. This might be a sort of Band-Aid approach, but for an asset that is scheduled to be retired it may be a serviceable option.
  • Some 3G hardware is backward compatible, meaning if it can't communicate on a 3G network, it will try the 2G network. Check with your service provider to make sure that backward compatibility will not interfere with your 3G connectivity after the sunset. Yes, a salesperson may tell you everything will be just fine, but before reality strikes, ask the provider's or manufacturer's tech support department if your device will need adjustment.
  • Don't be oversold. An easy fix is to simply replace all 2G technology with newer gizmos, but why spend that money now if you don't have to? Especially because as technology advances, 3G will (and is) be replaced by 4G LTE. If you do have to purchase new hardware, try to find equipment that is forward-compatible or comes with a plan that will upgrade your hardware as required in the next few years.
  • Discuss what support you can expect from your service provider and what agreements they have with device manufacturers. Discuss all de-installation and installation charges for replacement units. Can you do any of these installations in house?
  • The 2G sunset is giving tech companies reason to contact you to sell 2G migration solutions. Know who you are dealing with.
  • In the case of cell phones, if 2G equipment is where you stand (some people feel 2G phones work better for voice calls in rural areas) and your provider will not support 2G, consider changing carriers.

For more information, read AT&T's 2G Migration Plan for IoT here: