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Will the 3G switch-off leave you stranded?


Photo by Praveen kumar Mathivanan on Unsplash


Around the world, mobile phone networks are planning to phase out 3G (or UMTS), and sometimes also 2G. In some countries, it’s already happened.


You might be thinking, why should I care? My phone, and those of my customers, supports 2G to 5G, Bluetooth, and several standards of Wi-Fi. But if your fleet has older IoT devices embedded, it may be managed over a 3G network, and this could cause a catastrophic business failure. Even if your shared fleet of bikes, scooters, and mopeds is up to date, what about the telematics in your operations fleet of cargo-bikes and electric vans?


Why is 3G being shut down?

As you can guess from the name, 3G is an older technology than 4G and 5G, and although it was a huge advance over 2G in enabling data services, it is now considered slow, power-hungry and an inefficient use of spectrum.


After the 3G networks are shut down, the 3G spectrum can be reused for 4G and 5G services. 3G uses a technology called spread-spectrum, which needs large uninterrupted chunks of frequencies. 4G and 5G can make far better use of these prime spectrum assets. In addition, 3G networks normally operate at lower frequencies than current 4G and 5G networks, and lower frequencies are better at going through walls and other obstacles. So operating 4G and 5G networks on the old 3G frequencies allows network operators to offer better coverage, more capacity, and more reliability.


How will this affect me?

Hopefully, the 3G switch-off will not affect you at all. If your fleet is new, the embedded IoT device built into the vehicle should already be using 4G or 5G technology to communicate with your back-end systems.


But if you have an older fleet, it may be relying on 3G networks to operate. Even if users lock and unlock vehicles using Bluetooth, the vehicle is almost certainly using a mobile network to report its location, battery level, status, alarms, and many other types of data back to your Mobility Platform. If this communication link is broken, you have no business.


You should check the specification of all your IoT modules (in your shared fleet, and your operations fleet) to ensure that you will not suffer disruption when the 3G network is shut down in the cities where you operate. In many cases, an upgrade to 4G/5G will be available for your vehicles, but you need to plan the logistics of swapping hardware and allocate some time for testing.


If, even after all the best planning, you find that some of your vehicles go offline when the 3G network is shut down, Anadue customers can rest assured that we can provide the last reported coordinates of all offline vehicles quickly and easily!


A brief history of mobile phone generations

  • 1G: Analogue cellular (many national variants and no data services, not even SMS)

  • 2G: Digital, but almost exclusively providing voice services (GSM is a widely adopted 2G international standard for voice and SMS, supporting roaming between networks)

  • 2.5G: An upgrade to 2G to support limited data services, but speeds were slow and bandwidth very limited (GSM -> GPRS)

  • 3G: Also called UMTS. 3G was designed to support voice and data services together but required large amounts of spectrum to be allocated

  • 4G: Also called LTE. 4G was designed as a pure data service, with voice carried as one type of data (Voice over LTE, or VoLTE). Initially few devices supported VoLTE and roaming between networks for VoLTE was patchy. Many 4G phones still used 3G for voice calls.

  • 5G: The latest and greatest mobile phone technology (so far!), supporting high data rates with low latency. Many new applications were considered in the design, such as low power, low volume data for IoT devices.


When will 3G switch-off happen?

In the USA it’s nearly complete, while in the UK different networks are turning off their 3G networks over the next few years, with a hard deadline agreed with the UK government of being totally closed by 2033. Germany has also completed its 3G shutdown.

Here are a few examples.

In the USA, the switch-off is almost complete:

  • AT&T: Already closed

  • Sprint: Already closed

  • T-Mobile: Already closed

  • Verizon: 31 December 2022

In the UK, all operators have agreed with the UK government to switch off 2G and 3G by 2033, but specifically, each network has announced the following plans for 3G switch-off:

  • EE: “During 2024”

  • O2: No specific plan announced

  • Three: “at the end of 2023”

  • Vodafone: Starting in February 2023, complete by December 2023

In Germany, 3G has been turned off months ago:

  • Deutsche Telecom: Already closed

  • O2: Already closed

  • Vodafone: Already closed

For a more detailed list of when networks in a wide range of countries plan to swtich off 3G, please refer to this site: https://www.smartviser.com/post/2g-3gnetworkshutdown


References:

General Background:

https://www.techradar.com/news/3g-network-shutdown-what-you-need-to-know

UK:

https://ee.co.uk/3g-switch-off

https://www.ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/advice-for-consumers/advice/3g-switch-off

https://support.three.co.uk/SRVS/CGI-BIN/WEBISAPI.DLL?Command=New,Kb=Mobile,Ts=Mobile,T=Article,Case=obj(32407)

https://www.vodafone.co.uk/help-and-information/3g-switch-off

Germany:

https://www.telefonica.de/news/press-releases-telefonica-germany/2021/06/goodbye-3g-hello-improved-o2-4g-network-telefonica-deutschland-o2-starts-nationwide-switch-off-of-3g-network.html

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