Matt Hatton, Founding Partner, Transforma Insights
Transforma Insights recently published a White Paper ‘2G and 3G switch-off: what network evolution means for IoT’.
This new white paper details the implications for enterprise IoT deployments of 2G and 3G network switch-off, a process which has been seen in countries such as Australia, Japan and the US for a decade or more and is now rapidly accelerating in Europe.
The impact of the retirement of these legacy networks will vary a lot depending on the nature and duration of enterprise deployments, as well as those companies’ degree of preparation.
Costs but also benefits from 2G/3G switch-off
While there are certainly associated costs, including hardware replacement and the logistics cost of truck-rolls, there are also some very real benefits that will stem from making the switch. This article draws on the findings of the White Paper to demonstrate the ways in which enterprises will derive some significant positives from having undergone the upgrade process.
1. The capabilities of the upgraded technologies are far superior to those of 2G and 3G
The most obvious replacement technologies for 2G and 3G are the LPWA technologies, NB-IoT and LTE-M. They offer slightly superior data throughput but with substantial improvements in power consumption and coverage, making them a much better choice for battery powered devices. In the case of LTE (Cat 1, Cat 4 or even Cat 0) the technologies provide much higher data rates.
2. An opportunity to implement future-proof technologies
Enterprises can select technologies which can be expected to be around for decades to come. LTE has had a lifespan so far of around 13 years and can be expected to remain a fixture for the next 20 years. LTE has much better compatibility with future generations than 2G or 3G had, meaning that we expect LTE devices to be more future-proofed than 2G and 3G and a safe choice for IoT deployments. Furthermore, the NB-IoT and LTE-M technologies are both now part of the 5G standard meaning they will continue to be supported for as long as 5G is available.
3. Introduce features that would mitigate the impact of future switch-off
Similar to the previous point here, but specifically we can also consider the addition of features which might reduce the impact should the chosen connectivity technology be switched off in future. Specifically, we consider the remote SIM provisioning (RSP) capability associated with embedded SIM (eSIM), whereby a device can be remotely moved to a different network in the event of that network being switched off, as long as there’s another such network still available.
4. Upgrade devices to include other new functionality
The aforementioned RSP/eSIM is one example of a new technology with valuable capabilities which could be added to the existing installed base of devices while also upgrading the network connectivity. Upgrading the generation is an opportunity to also upgrade other features of the device, such as for edge computing.
5. Seize the opportunity to reconsider your whole protocol stack
Many IoT deployments do not make optimal use of the diverse range of technologies available today, and certainly do not ensure that all the various elements (e.g. device, connectivity, protocols, operating systems, cloud) work optimally with each other (a subject that we wrote about recently in the context of the Sierra Wireless/Semtech and Telit/Thales deals: ‘The growing need for full-stack optimisation: Why the Semtech/Sierra Wireless deal will deliver more than Telit Cinterion’). Changing connectivity technology also presents an opportunity to rethink how the overall application is built.
6. Improve your connectivity
Many cellular-connected IoT devices were deployed in a somewhat unmanaged way, for instance simply taking SIM cards from an operator and plugging them into an IoT module. IoT connectivity offerings are now much more ‘managed’ with sophisticated features in connectivity management platforms (CMPs) and device management that ensure that the enterprise has much greater transparency over device status and greater control over its operation.
7. Save some money!
The price of cellular-based IoT connectivity has come down quite considerably in recent years. Many enterprises shifting away from legacy 2G and 3G networks have found that connectivity charges are at least 50% lower than when they were selecting their 2G/3G tariff.
8. Be more sustainable
Enterprises are increasingly focusing attention of being more sustainable. Making use of more efficient technologies (4G and 5G are more efficient than 2G and 3G) is ultimately more sustainable, even allowing for the e-waste that might be associated with disposing of redundant old devices. This is particularly important with energy costs sky-rocketing. For more on this topic see, for instance, our blog post ‘IoT is a critical tool for addressing UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’.
Enterprises agree: there are benefits to be found
In September/October 2022, Transforma Insights commissioned a survey of 1,114 enterprise executives with experience of deploying cellular-based IoT, including questions specifically about 2G/3G migration. The Enterprise IoT Connectivity Survey found that of those enterprises that have gone through a migration from 2G/3G to 4G/5G, 58% found that it brought significant benefits, for example in better capabilities, lower cost, or better management of devices, 37% found it brought some benefits, and only 5% described it as bringing little to no benefit other than maintaining the connectivity to the devices.