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2G/3G Sunset and Simplifying the Migration to 4G LTE
While cutting edge in their day, rapid advancement in network technology is rendering yesterday’s state-of-the-art 2G and 3G technology archaic. Today’s 4G LTE networks and rapidly maturing 5G technology are making 2G and 3G redundant and are beginning to crowd them for spectrum space.
2G and 3G are moving into sunset
In many jurisdictions, carriers have stopped supporting or have already closed down 2G networks. In the United States, existing 2G networks of major carriers are set to be shuttered by the end of this year, with plans to begin sunsetting their 3G networks starting this year and next. In parts of Europe, some carriers will hold on to 2G as late as 2025 but will begin re-farming spectrum to make room for new networks.
Following is a list of shutdowns that have been announced or have already taken place:
GSMA Legacy mobile network rationalisation, Experiences of 2G and 3G migrations in Asia-Pacific, May 2020
The clock is ticking for big industrial users of 2G and 3G networks, having complex systems depending on cellular connectivity with most having only a year or two at most before those devices will be obsolete and require replacement. With a consumer cellphone, this might pose just an inconvenience, but with integrated commercial systems, it can mean multi-million-dollars worth of equipment will need to be replaced.
The replacement costs are particularly acute in the transit communication and fleet management spaces. Transit and transport companies use various communication systems between mobile assets and control centers, to facilitate contact with passengers and employ real-time GPS navigation for asset monitoring (location, status and performance). Communication protocol modules are also used in Variable Message Signs (VMS) placed at transit centers that, for example, alert passengers in real-time when the next bus or train for a given route is due to arrive.
Why 4G LTE ?
With countless devices on the verge of obsolescence, an upgrade to next-generation technology—4G LTE, in this case—is not only needed but also inevitable and must be done urgently.
Besides necessity, 4G LTE has numerous benefits to recommend it. Technologically it is more sophisticated, providing all of the bandwidth most of today’s applications need and is a far more cost-effective choice.
It also offers improved geographical coverage in most regions and has the added benefit of expected longevity. Users looking to make the switch to 4G LTE will have at least a decade or more of use from 4G LTE technology, even as 5G begins to roll out and become more common.
The Switch to 4G LTE
While the upgrade to 4G LTE is clearly a necessity, it is also imperative to consider how convenient and cost friendly this initiative will turn out to be especially for larger communication systems.
In the case of integrated systems used in fleet management systems and transport communication systems, many components and sometimes the entire in-cab communications and trailer-tracking systems used in fleet management or transit systems—will have to be replaced or upgraded to support 4G connectivity.
Replacement of these systems across fleets will cost millions of dollars (reduced profitability for the company), will result in potential downtime and the resulting electronic waste will have adverse environmental impacts.
How to simplify the migration to 4G LTE?
As embedded engineers passionate about finding simple solutions to complex problems, our recommendation is to consider custom solutions to upgrade only the obsolete communication module with a 4G LTE modem while retaining the rest of the system in its original form.
Is it that simple? Is it a viable solution?
Yes, and yes. We at NeuronicWorks have recently worked with a few transit authorities in Canada and internationally to seamlessly upgrade their integrated 2G/3G communication systems to 4G LTE capability. Our work with these organizations focused on offering a cost effective and easy-to-deploy solution without affecting their daily operations. We designed a custom cellular communication module to allow such legacy systems using Motorola G-series modems to update their voice and data connectivity from 2G/3G to 4G LTE.
This is not just an off-the-shelf solution, it is a simple, plug-in solution.
The board that carried the communication protocol module was redesigned to be a fully certified and carrier approved custom module for replacement in the existing system that could piggyback on existing infrastructure.
Our expertise in hardware and firmware design allowed us to upgrade the communication module, maintaining voice and data systems and ensuring connectivity with all required interfaces. This was seamlessly achieved with next-generation technologies without a complete redesign of the system.
The solution is simple and with the right team of experts, it can be the most cost-effective and efficient way to simplified 4G migration.