Sunsets are beautiful — unless you’re talking about the sunset of a cellular network you’re unprepared for.
You’ve probably heard about 5G. This fifth generation of cellular services promises faster data connectivity and less lag time, not only for your smartphone, but for all kinds of connected devices — including the electronic logging devices and other internet-of-things devices used by trucking fleets.
But the devices you have probably are using older 3G and even 2G generations of the cellular network, which are about to be “sunset.” That means as cellular carriers make the switch to 4G and 5G, devices that depend on those older networks will stop working. The sunset date varies by region and carrier, but will be completed by 2022.
Telematics providers have been preparing for the upcoming disabling of the 2G/3G mobile network for some time, so we asked a number of providers to give fleets insight into the switch and how to prepare.
“An important first step is for fleets to educate themselves on what the 2G and 3G sunsets are all about, including why wireless carriers are making this change to pave the way for more advanced networks and increased connectivity,” says John Binder, director of wireless operations for Trimble Transportation. “It is also important for fleets to evaluate which devices in their vehicle base will be impacted by these sunsets and what action is required.”
While most consumers are already on the 4G train in terms of their personal devices, many fleets have yet to make the transition.
According to John Nichols, executive vice president of sales for North America at Mix Telematics, about 80% of his customers are still using 3G devices. The company has been actively converting these fleets over the last year or so, but the pandemic disrupted its progress. “We continue to work closely with our customers and cellular provider to look at ways to make up for lost time due to COVID-19,” he says.
Making the Transition
Before getting ready for 5G, it’s important to have an accurate inventory of your legacy 2G and 3G devices, according to Paul Schwartz, J.J. Keller & Associates vice president of technology solutions. That should include the type of device, as well as its brand, location, and size. Fleets trying to make a transition without fully understanding their current situation will be hard pressed.
“Once an accurate inventory is assembled, create a transition project to tackle replacement in an orderly manner, such as by location, and start as soon as possible on the execution of your plan,” says Schwartz.
But it’s not just about the devices — don’t forget about the data. For some, this is most the most important consideration when making the transition.
“While hardware can be retired, the data from telematics systems should be accessible in archive or live cloud-based solutions,” says Colin Sutherland, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Geotab. “Before you upgrade and possibly switch telematics providers, it is important to ensure you have all of your data archived for your use.”
Planning ahead is definitely an important detail, and coordinating with your service provider is the best, first step — especially considering that new 4G devices can take 30 minutes to an hour to install, says Pankaj Sharma, vice president of marketing and product at NexTraq.
“Fleet managers can plan ahead by scheduling their vehicles around the installation process.”
Telematics companies have been actively contacting customers to let them know there is a game plan in place to help them through the upgrade process.
“We are bringing together our Verizon team to ensure we’re considering the customer’s experience at every point throughout the process and make sure that they understand what is happening with the technology and the impact to their fleet,” says Jennifer Strouth, platform and integrations, Verizon Connect.
While Zonar has been through several wireless network upgrades over the years, its customers have not. So the company has created a series of communications, which includes webinars, marketing pieces, and other materials, to ensure customers understand that a transition is forthcoming, how the upgrade process will happen, and the respective roles and responsibilities of the customer and Zonar.
“We have a project management office and programs to assist customers,” says Matt Deichman, senior vice president of customer success and IT, Zonar. “We track every customer’s progress, the communication, and next steps in their transition.”
What About ELDs?
For most fleets, the most important device affected by this transition will be electronic logging devices. Even nearly a year after the ELD mandate was set in stone, some fleets are still trying to fully grasp this regulation (see story on page 36). This mobile-network technology shift only adds to the confusion.
“ELD providers that have embedded 2G/3G networks in their equipment will be forced to replace existing equipment their customers are using, and that adds expense and the potential of downtime to any fleet,” says J.J. Keller’s Schwartz.
For some fleets, this might be the right time for a change if they are using ELDs that rely on 2G/3G networks. Geotab suggests fleets transition from proprietary mobile data terminals for the driver interface to less expensive and more multi-purpose devices from Apple or Android.
“A distinct advantage of cloud-based ELD solutions is the ability to mix and match mobile devices that drivers use, with the flexibility and freedom to upgrade these driver’s mobile tools,” says Sutherland.
Important software updates and uploading your electronic logs to the authorities during roadside inspections should also be key concerns with the loss of the 2G/3G network. Any device with a built-in 2G/3G modem will need to be replaced.
“Given many fleets operate in rural areas, fleets will need to be concerned with 2G/3G coverage and capacity,” says Zonar’s Deichman. “ELDs may work in densely populated areas but might be impacted by lack of coverage and capacity in rural areas.”
Going 4G, 5G
The necessity to transition to 5G is still a way off, but fleets can likely anticipate similar costs when 4G is phased out as are associated with the 3G network sunset, according to Andrew Liuzzo, marketing communications specialist for Road Ready.
“Removing and replacing hardware will be the main expense,” he says. “Early 5G devices will also require upgraded power and thermal management designs to go along with speed and capacity of 5G technology, which could increase device cost. More data will be sent faster, therefore, fleets need to be aware of applications using 5G, because data costs can rise quickly.”
At the moment, 4G is adequate for the type of solutions most providers offer, but Mix Telematics says it is “future proofing” its solutions to work with 5G if the company sees an opportunity for it.
“However, 5G needs to become more cost-efficient to make sense for most fleets,” adds Nichols.
Since 4G LTE networks are expected to operate through approximately 2030, fleets do not need to rush out and transition to 5G anytime soon, says Road Ready’s Liuzzo. “For now, they can focus on replacing any 2G or 3G devices to a 4G LTE telematics solution.”
But the future seems brighter — and faster — with 5G, which could offer improved coverage with greater bandwidth for high-data requirement features like dash cameras, says NexTraq’s Sharma. The new tech could also enable better interaction between vehicles and their ecosystems. “It’s an exciting time to be in this industry. We’re ready for the capabilities and opportunities the future holds.”
“The possibilities of 5G are exciting, and as the 5G-powered technologies, like autonomous vehicles, continue to become a reality, we will no doubt better understand the path for our customers to be on the cutting edge,” adds Verizon Connect’s Strouth.
Whether it’s a conversion from the old 2G/3G network or a step forward into the future of 5G, it is imperative for a fleet to work directly with their fleet mobility technology partner to understand which networks their in-cab equipment connects to, according to Trimble’s Binder.
“Not only is this conversation important in light of the 2G and 3G network sunsets, but also as wireless networks, and in-cab technology, continue to evolve,” he explains. “Having a discussion with your fleet mobility provider can help you determine if you are partnering with a provider that can meet your needs today, but also as technology advances in the months and years ahead.”