“The Sky is Falling” - The end of 2G/3G networks as we know them

There is a common folk tale that features a chicken hysterically telling the world that the sky is falling; meaning that the world is coming to an end.  This chicken is known by many names including Henny Penny, Chicken Little and Chicken Licken. The moral of the story is not to believe everything you are told.  Unlike the moral of this story, the end of 2G and 3G networks in North America is real and is happening now. In 2015 AT&T shut down their 2G network. In 2018 both AT&T and Verizon will stop certifying new 3G activations and have announced the scheduled shut down of 3G service.  As of yet neither Sprint nor T-Mobile have released any information. See chart timeline below.

(Image source: Digi International)

With the sunset of 2G/3G networks on the horizon, there are several questions that we as consumers and designers need to think about.

  1. Why is this happening?
  2. What does this mean to me?
  3. What must I consider as a consumer and designer when formulating a migration path away from 2G/3G?

Why is this happening?

Why are these major carriers shutting down these networks? According to Digi’s white paper titled Any-G to LTE, The Top Five Considerations for Migrating to 4G, 5G and Beyond, they list: “In many cases, the migration away from 2G/3G is driven by a desire to repurpose spectrum for more efficient LTE data traffic. “There is also the cost associated with it, LTE is more cost effective than either 2G or 3G networks.

What does this mean to me?

Millions of devices will need to be replaced before the official shutdown.  If you are using a 2G/3G cellular device such as a cellphone, cellular router or cellular module; these devices will no longer have a network to work on in North America. Other parts of the world will slowly follow suit. This simply means that you will need to replace these devices. For a cellphone user, this is no big deal since the average life span of cellphone is about 2.5 years.  We are used to replacing these items very frequently. With a new phone comes a new plan and the 4G network with the new 5G not to far away. However, for our IoT world where routers and modules that are incorporated into finished products, these devices are not replaced at such frequencies and users need to plan for their network obsolesce. This is a huge issue for B2B and M2M connectivity which relies heavily on these devices.

What must I consider as a consumer and designer when formulating a migration path away from 2G/3G?

Digi recommends five things to consider. SIM Cards, Dual Antennas, Evaluating Signal, Frequencies and Band and lastly Speed and Latency. Digi goes into detail on each of these items in their paper linked above. I would add a sixth thing to consider and that is timelines. With 3G being totally phased out by end of 2019 for Verizon and 2021 for AT&T, you will need to have a plan in place for your networks.

Henny Penny was right this time, “The Sky is Falling” for 2G/3G networks. Millions of devices will need to be replaced. This will have a huge impact for our IoT world. So, I ask you, will you be ready?

About this author

Image of Stephen Wegscheid Stephen Wegscheid, Senior Product Manager-Semiconductors at Digi-Key Electronics, specializes in analog/linear electronics, connectivity products, and single-board computers. He has a Master of Science degree from Bemidji State University and over 25 years of experience in design, manufacturing, and distribution. Additionally, he is the holder of a US patent.
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