As 3G mobile networks are being replaced by newer standards, should fleets with connected...

As 3G mobile networks are being replaced by newer standards, should fleets with connected devices that make use of 3G be worried?

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A current hot topic concerning mobile technologies is the sunsetting of 3G mobile networks. Verizon announced it would end support for 3G devices by the end of the year, and other major mobile service providers have said they plan to follow suit within the next year or two.

The reason for the sunset comes down to real estate, or spectrum in the case of mobile service providers. As companies kick in to high gear to develop 5G networks, there isn’t enough room in the radio frequency spectrum for older mobile technologies.

That means that any 3G mobile devices you may have deployed in your fleet won’t be able to establish a mobile connection once all the major mobile service providers have closed down their 3G networks.

It’s a critical issue, says Eric Witty, vice president of product management at Trimble Transportation Mobility. Companies need to make plans for moving on to the next generation of devices.

“For us, it’s not a ‘you’ve got to do it now or else.’ We are kind of coaching ourselves for loss of coverage and degradation of service. We are trying to plan for that.”

As Witty points out, there isn’t a hard deadline, like there is with ELDs, but it’s something carriers need to start thinking about.

“In our world, it’s ‘where is your wireless,’” he explains. In Trimble’s case, the wireless is inside the on-board computer unit that is connected to the truck. Many of the company’s devices in the field are ready for 4G, he said, but some older ones are not and will need to be replaced.

Many mobile device vendors have already launched 4G devices. Jason Penkethman, chief product and strategy officer, Spireon, said his company has “launched 4G devices that in some cases can fall back to 3G if a 4G network is not present in that area.”

He recommends trucking companies develop plans for upgrading their fleet over time, maybe during scheduled PMs, for instance.

On the other hand, the technology changes so quickly in the mobile space – especially in consumer-grade devices – most drivers probably already carry a 4G smartphone.

“We’re keeping an eye on it, of course; we’ve pretty much depleted most of our inventory with 3G and are starting to send out LTE,” says Salem Elnahwy, chief technology officer, Transflo. Many 3G devices will work until 2022, he notes, so there is still time to plan.

“The nice thing about it is that these units are fairly inexpensive,” he says. “Kind of like cell phones, you might replace them every two to three years.”

Then there are the benefits that 4G offers over the older technologies. The networks allow more data to be sent more efficiently and at a lower cost.

As for the upcoming 5G, it promises even more benefits. Yet most observers see full implementation of that technology some way off in the future, as mobile service providers have just begun developing their networks. And the networks must come before the devices.

The bottom line: If you have 3G devices deployed in your fleet, start working on a plan to replace them.

About the author
Jim Beach

Jim Beach

Technology Contributing Editor

Covering the information technology beat for Heavy Duty Trucking, Jim Beach stays on top of computer technology trends from the cab to the back office to the shop, whether it’s in the hand, on the desk or in the cloud. Covering trucking since 1988.

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