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Exploring 2G/3G sunsetting and how developers can prepare for it

Jan 7, 2020

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

With the proliferation of 4G and 5G being rolled out in many regions, mobile network operators (MNOs) are focused on freeing up spectrum to be repurposed for faster and more efficient technologies. This is leading to the retirement of services and equipment that currently support 2G and 3G cellular connectivity. In this blog we will look at the implications for developers of what is being called “2G/3G Sunsetting”. We’ll help you understand why this is important, when and where it's happening, and what you can do to prepare for it. We’ll also delve into some of the challenges that MNOs are facing with legacy technologies, and how you might take this opportunity to make some forward-thinking changes.

Why is this so important?

In today’s connected world, connection is one of the most critical components. The idea of that connection suddenly not working for your users can be devastating, not only for your business and your reputation, but in some cases also for public safety. As an example, in the US when many MNOs officially shutdown 2G in 2017, many companies had not prepared properly. Even though they were given warnings for 3 years. The disruption to their service, and the unplanned cost to try to recover, caused many of these companies to become insolvent, which left them little choice but to shut down completely.

Today even more services, especially in IoT, could be at risk. Consider how many essential services in the areas of industrial control, like remote access monitoring of temperature, air, or safety, are reliant on the low cost but reliable 2G/3G backbone. MNOs say it is imperative that we don’t have a repeat of unpreparedness as the reliance on machine-to-machine (M2M) services are even higher now.

When will it happen?

Be sure to check when your local shutdown dates, or last activation dates, are for the MNOs in your geographical areas. An overview of global 2G/3G sunset dates can be accessed here:

Source: https://1ot.mobi/resources/blog/a-complete-overview-of-2g-3g-sunsets

However, it is always recommended that you source this information directly for your area for the latest and most up-to-date information. It is important to note that some MNOs are sunsetting 3G before 2G (mostly in the UK) due to the specific reliance on 2G M2M for services like vehicle telematics, asset tracking, and smart meter programs.

What do you need to do?

What you need to do will depend on what type of developer you are. If you’re a mobile application developer, it depends on your customer’s device, therefore your path for dealing with sunsetting is a little simpler. Testing for ‘no network availability’ is probably, or should be, part of your standard test cases anyway. What is most important for your added test cases for the disappearance of 2G/3G availability is how you handle it gracefully for your users (i.e., helping ensure your app doesn’t just crash).

However, if you are an IoT developer, there are further considerations and steps you can take into account with your preparation. For instance, running tests for no network availability and failing gracefully, is just as important as for any other developer. However, you should also identify critical-failure devices that impact your ability to provide your service. For these you can create an inventory and check the specs to see if they are tied to 2G/3G. Remember to check for fall back modes as well. For example, some of the early-generation LTE data devices will drop to 2G/3G for SMS as a backup. Once you have your inventory complete, you can make your design or purchase decisions and create your migration plan.

When should you do this?

The answer to when you should migrate from 2G/3G is quite simple: now. When it comes to creating a migration plan, time is your best friend. The more time you have, the more choices there will be. For example, if there are significant changes needed, but your timeline has some breathing room, you may be able to look upon this as an opportunity to deploy future-proof solutions. This is especially true for IoT developers who may want to accelerate future planned IoT deployments or re-think their current network connectivity completely. A good place to start looking at alternatives is in our FAQs for IoT Connectivity Options.

Who can help?

Many organizations are dedicating resources to help guide these ecosystems into being able to support the replacement technologies. Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. (QTI) is on the Steering Board for the Spectrum Policy Forum, a pro-active industry-led ‘sounding board’ that helps to ensure that work at MNOs is expedited, suitably resourced, and properly monitored. Search out similar organizations in your region that are offering this leadership and guidance. They are there to help and have a vested interest in your successful migration.

Some final thoughts

As 2G/3G spectrums are being reallocated for future technologies, it is important to understand that the same thing will eventually happen to 4G as well. Sunsetting may help create a clear pathway to 5G, offering the opportunity for you to redesign your applications to be more efficient and secure. As you evaluate your options and make your decisions it is important to keep all of this on top of mind and know that solutions from QTI can help see you through 4G to 5G and beyond.

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