Are you prepared for the 2G/3G sunsets? What to know about their replacements

November 5, 2018Blog, Solutions

"Part 1 of 2"

It’s a well-documented phenomenon: legacy cellular networks are put to rest to make way for network technologies that make more efficient use of spectrum. Spectrum is a limited resource that comes at a steep price – often commanding billions of dollars for the right to use certain frequencies. Rather than continually purchasing more of a limited resource, cellular carriers around the world have to make difficult decisions on what to do with the use of their existing spectral holdings. In many cases, this ends up being a decision to move from legacy network technologies, like 2G and 3G, and into more spectrally efficient technologies like LTE.

This evolution into newer technologies can pose quite a headache, especially for those that have built IoT solutions and strategies around some of these “legacy networks”. IoT has brought a new dimension of complexity to this issue. Unlike the consumer handset market, it’s obviously unrealistic to ask your deployed devices to get up and walk into the nearest carrier shop and swap out a radio module. Asking a team of technicians is of course an option, but it is an option that can be quite costly. And in the business of IoT, margins can already be quite slender to begin with.

Spectrum is a limited resource that comes at a steep price – often commanding billions of dollars for the right to use certain frequencies.

So, for those with existing 2G and 3G IoT deployments, there are some tough decisions to be made. The bright side of this situation is that there are plenty of options moving forward.

First though, what to do with those sunsetting devices?

A great first step would be to talk to an IoT managed services provider that understands what it will take to replace any affected deployed devices. Managed services providers have the expertise to bring a wide variety of perspectives and vendors to the table and make complicated issues relatively simple. In some cases, it may make the most sense to swap wireless modules, and in others, it might make sense to design and deploy an entirely new solution.

The next step is understanding the network options that are available. With the rapid growth of IoT solutions, cellular carriers have worked closely with standards bodies like 3GPP to develop protocols that are suitable to the variety of use cases of IoT solutions. No longer is there a one-size-fits-all mentality to cellular connectivity for IoT. We will walk you through some of those options.

LTE-M (Machine-Type Communications)

LTE-M (M is abbreviated from “Machine-Type Communications”) is part of the 3GPP Release 13 that reduces complexity associated power consumption. This network technology is deployed as a software addition to existing LTE network infrastructure. Part of that software update allows for a “Power Savings Mode” that uniquely allows connections to remain idle without disconnecting from the network. It also sacrifices data speeds in favor of power saving abilities. The network continues to be deployed in various countries around the world. Within the USA, Verizon and AT&T have invested in the deployment of this network deployment.

NB-IoT (Narrow Band IoT)

Narrow-Band IoT, also defined within release 13, uses an ultra-narrow band 180 kHz channel of LTE. Unlike LTE-M, NB-IoT is a larger capital investment, requiring additional hardware to be installed at the tower level. Support for NB-IoT has grown significantly in the last year as the technical promise is significant. Battery life is expected to be 10+ years for many applications, and signal propagation figures to extend much wider than other wireless technologies – delivering broader coverage. NB-IoT does not support voice and data transmission speeds are estimated in the 150kbps range. Currently, this technology appears to be the most broadly invested-in low power, wide area network globally.

LTE Cat-1 (Category 1)

LTE categories are essentially segmented based upon peak speeds. Categories 4 and up can be thought of as high speed. Category 1 (Cat-1) defines the user equipment required for operation within that standard. Cat-1 device are capable of communicating over regular LTE networks, however, performance is throttled back to deliver benefits in other areas like power consumption and cost. Cat-1 devices are a great option for those looking for a few months of battery life and a lower cost device/module. This network, as previously stated is deployed already in most parts of the developed world.

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