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IoT/M2M and the Move from 2G GSM to 2G CDMA or 4G LTE

Minimizing service disruption calls for enterprises using AT&T’s 2G GSM services to rapidly develop and carry out device replacement.

August 2012 seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? That’s when AT&T announced it would be shutting down (or sunsetting) its 2G GSM services sometime in the coming few years, including both GPRS and EDGE packet data. It’s hard to believe that 2017 is only a few months away. We now know that’s when companies that use the AT&T 2G network have to replace GSM devices on AT&T’s network before the service is removed in January.

Figure 1: The author explains that AT&T’s planned 2G network shutdown is to make room for 3G and 4G networks, allowing more data capacity and increased speed for the ballooning wireless network data use in healthcare and other sectors.

Figure 1: The author explains that AT&T’s planned 2G network shutdown is to make room for 3G and 4G networks, allowing more data capacity and increased speed for the ballooning wireless network data use in healthcare and other sectors.

This network shut down requires replacing an estimated 17 million GSM devices on AT&T’s network before the service is removed. Although some companies have already sought other solutions, many organizations have yet to address this issue. Companies using AT&T’s 2G GSM services must create and execute a plan to replace devices quickly in order to minimize disruption in their services.

Why Now?
AT&T must shut down the current 2G network and use that space for 3G and 4G networks that will increase data capacity and speed because data use on wireless networks is increasing dramatically. In addition to the large number of machine to machine (M2M) devices currently in use today, even more are being added in utilities, healthcare and other industries as more companies see the value in the Internet of Things (IoT). Strategy Analytics estimates that M2M connections will grow from 368 million in 2013 to 2.9 billion by 2022.

Additionally, data use on wireless networks is increasing as more and more people embrace smartphones and tablets. “Cisco Visual Networking Index Mobile Forecast, 2013” shows that mobile data traffic is projected to grow worldwide from 0.9 ExaBytes/month in 2012 to 11.2 ExaBytes/month by 2017. This exponential growth has forced AT&T to acquire spectrum to add capacity and deploy more spectrum-efficient protocols in existing spectrum to improve capacity.

Who Is Affected?
M2M applications with low data transfer rates typically don’t require a lot of bandwidth, so they may never need the speed of a 4G network. And the cost structure of many M2M applications and devices doesn’t support the cost of upgrading to those higher speed networks. But to avoid being stranded, companies with devices utilizing one of the 2G networks need to find cost-effective replacement solutions or upgrade their devices.

Call to Action
The GSM network sunset is a major issue for the IoT / M2M industry because such large numbers of GSM/GPRS devices have been deployed. To maintain service, up to 10 million 2G GSM devices must be replaced in about one year—or less, as some markets may experience the shutdown in the last months of 2016.

Assuming 250 working days a year, the IoT / M2M industry must replace a staggering 40,000 devices per day, starting immediately. In order to replace the millions of M2M devices before the sunset occurs, companies will need to rapidly develop plans to make the transition from a 2G GSM network connection to 2G CDMA or 4G LTE. This could include developing new products and new suppliers, preparing detailed schedules, managing customer notifications, and more.

What Are the Options?
Likely the most inexpensive option to quickly recover is to move service from AT&T to another carrier by swapping the SIM card inside the devices. Companies like T-Mobile have continued commitment to 2G GSM. This requires logistical planning to schedule the swap and could require a truck roll for fixed location devices. However, this is a good option for companies that need to extend their 2G GSM deployments for a few more years before implementing another option.

Other options include:

  • Migrating to Sprint 2G CDMA (1xRTT)—Sprint is providing modules to facilitate the migration from GSM to CDMA.
  • Upgrading devices to 3G GSM or LTE—while these cellular module costs are still significantly more expensive, the costs are declining. It’s important to note that a switch to 3G may just delay an eventual jump to an LTE product.

Several of these options only delay the inevitable by a few years and give additional time to implement another option. In the long run, most companies will eventually be forced to deploy new devices.

A company that is ready to assist with replacing current hardware affected by the 2G sunset or work with customers on new monitoring opportunities is ATEK Access Technologies. The company’s TankScan products address light industrial liquid tank monitoring needs.

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MIke_Murray_lowresMike Murray is Senior Product and Channel Manager for the TankScan product line of ATEK Access Technologies. Murray works with very large national and regional collectors to independent operators, to help them be more efficient and deliver superior customer service. He also has extensive experience using M2M technologies to create products and services that deliver access to critical data, improve efficiencies and meet customers’ goals.

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