How To: Survive Cellular Carrier Network Shutdowns

Sunder Somasundaram, SVP Pre-Sales and Solution Architecture
May 16, 2019 9:37:31 AM

2G and 3G cellular connectivity are at the heart of many IoT devices that businesses and consumers rely on each day. However, North American carriers are expected to continue shutting down their 2G and 3G networks, forcing organizations to find new connectivity options for their IoT devices. The carrier network shutdown trend began at the end of 2016 when AT&T eliminated its 2G network, impacting an estimated 10-12 million active 2G connections. Since then, many other major carriers have followed suit and are expected to sunset their 2G and even 3G networks, with some shutdowns happening as soon as 2019.

With 2G and 3G options quickly disappearing, now is the time for IoT solution providers to plan their transition to other connectivity options. Otherwise, their IoT devices will be rendered useless as they lose their only network connection option. For most organizations, this means migrating to Long Term Evolution (LTE) connectivity options.

Leveraging LTE for Network Shutdowns

As cellular carriers rapidly work to stay ahead of consumer demand for high-speed LTE connectivity, they are also challenged to deliver low-cost, lower speed LTE options for IoT solutions that transmit small, infrequent packets of data. To meet these specific IoT needs, carriers have launched low-power LTE (LPWA LTE) technologies that offer extended battery life, low module costs, and greater coverage in both indoor and outdoor environments. LPWA LTE options also offer longer lifespans, and as much as 10 years of runway before the next round of network shutdowns is expected.

Building Your Migration Strategy

Avoid IoT device interruptions caused by today’s 2G and 3G network shutdowns by following these steps:

  1. Assess Your Current Status
  2. Know Your Timeline
  3. Identify an LTE Substitute
  4. Determine a Device Strategy
  5. Verify Logistical Requirements

 

Assess Your Current Status

Set the stage for a successful LTE migration strategy by first auditing your current deployment of connected devices. Understanding which devices will be impacted by the impending network shutdowns will equip you with the foundational data needed to formulate your LTE migration plan.

A comprehensive analysis of your environment should help you identify:

  • The number of connected devices you are managing
  • The network technologies (2G, 3G, LTE) to which these devices are connected
  • The carrier network(s) to which these devices are connected.
    Note: If any of your devices are activated on more than one carrier, your migration strategy will be impacted. Make sure you identify and notate every carrier your individual devices are leveraging. Failure to do so may result in unexpected additional costs, device downtime, or connection challenges in the future.

 

Know Your Timeline

Your LTE migration timeline should depend on when your mobile network operators (MNO) have planned their network shutdowns. Prioritize devices on the networks with the earliest shutdown dates. It is important to understand that, long before completely shutting down a legacy network, MNOs often enforce deadlines or limitations on the activation of new devices. As a result, your migration to LTE may begin sooner than expected, at least for any new IoT deployments you have planned.

Identify an LTE Substitute 

Within LTE, there are many categories of LTE technologies, each with different speeds, costs, and capabilities, and there is an ideal category of LTE for each IoT application. Most often, the low-powered LTE categories - Category 1 LTE (Cat 1), Category M LTE (Cat M), and narrowband IoT LTE (NB-IoT) best meet the needs and price-points of IoT devices.

To simplify your migration and select the correct LTE variety for your needs, map your unique application requirements to the appropriate networking technology. Matching application requirements to connectivity options is one of the most challenging aspects of IoT, and it is a leading reason why IoT projects fail. If you do not have the internal expertise to align these options, seek an experienced, independent IoT expert to provide guidance.

Determine a Device Strategy

Once a substitute LTE technology has been selected, generate a strategy for replacing legacy 2G or 3G devices with models that are compatible with the selected network option. There are two primary choices when developing a device strategy:

  • Develop a new, LTE-capable custom device – suitable for organizations that deployed legacy IoT solutions leveraging proprietary devices. This involves modifying the device with an upgraded cellular module for the desired network technology.
  • Purchase an off-the-shelf, LTE-capable device – if you do not need custom device functionalities, an off-the-shelf device can be an attractive option. This will allow you to conserve time and resources necessary to engineer a new device.

 

Verify Logistical Requirements

With a clear understanding of your installed IoT devices, expected sunsets, and technology selections, the next step is called “forward logistics.” It involves carefully assessing logistical processes to successfully manage your new LTE-supported solution deployment.

Forward logistics begins with aligning your migration requirements and business forecast to procure the IoT components needed to replace legacy solutions and support new deployments. The process culminates with onsite activation and ongoing monitoring.

Next Steps

Surviving network shutdowns may seem like a daunting undertaking if you have relied on 2G and 3G connections to power your IoT solutions. However, by carefully planning and executing against a comprehensive LTE migration strategy, you can not only ensure long-term success and return on your IoT investments but also reap the many benefits of LTE.

For expert guidance on how to build your LTE migration strategy, watch the on-demand webinar “State of the Network: Navigating 2G/3G Shutdowns for Long-Term IoT Success.”