2G / 3G Sunset: Managing a real life case study

An article by Guy Lanrezac, CEO of SilentSoft.

Guy Lanrezac - SilentSoftAs, telecom operators are freeing up spectrum resources to introduce 5G, a significant number of 2G or 3G networks are already planned to be switched off. This decision is likely to have severe impacts on customers who wish to continue to benefit from existing M2M (Machine To Machine) services based on those technologies.

This article shares some ideas to what service providers have to take into consideration when managing a 2G/3G sunset situation and extending an Internet of Things service.

Interface regularly with telecom operators and start early

Every European country has its own migration strategy. There may also be different agendas within a same telecom operator. The telecom operators’ B2C and B2B/M2M/IoT business units have different priorities. There are several technical, business (and sometimes political) considerations before deciding to switch off a network. Some operators may favor a 3G sunset to keep and guarantee robust voice services over a large territory (2G base stations can be installed further apart).

Should a 2G network be planned for shutdown, with devices communicating on 2G modems, there are no software upgrade options to manage the network switch-off. Companies operating or relying on an M2M/IoT service have to bear the acquisition and deployment cost of new cellular modems and manage a complex hardware replacement campaign.

In the case of a 3G network sunset, the situation can be a little easier, as recent 3G modems generally have 2G capacity.

Optimize the existing technology solutions

At SilentSoft we have been operating an M2M service in Europe since 2000. SMS and GPRS services have been used at a very early stage, with a good quality of service, at reasonable prices. The introduction of dual-mode modems has allowed us to install hybrid 3G/2G solutions. In the case of network coverage issues on a domestic market, we are using Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) to allow national roaming. And for non-Swiss territories, we are using a SIM card from a Swiss Mobile Network Operator (MNO) to activate roaming on the best cellular network offering the best coverage on the local spot.

Involving the customer

The joint announcements of Swiss MNOs’ plans to cease guarantying quality of service on 2G networks beyond 2020, has obliged us to contact more than 800 customers and manage the replacement of nearly 15’000 2G equipments and subscriptions.

In our case, we have chosen to share the upfront cost burden with our customers in exchange of a promotional offer on the replacement solutions. The complete process to change all the equipments on site will take 4 years.

Selecting the appropriate replacement technology

There are 3 considerations to take into account when choosing a 2G/3G replacement solution:

    1. Network Coverage – At SilentSoft we are operating an Internet Of Tanks service and the transmitting devices are often in “deep indoor” situations i.e located underground or in a basement. We have been measuring and comparing network coverage with different technologies at every installation for the past two years. The first findings show that there is a difference between the signal strength indicated by the network detector and the signal strength received in the payload of the communicating device. Results differ between different technology/network providers. For example, when performing coverage tests for Low Power Networks (like LoRa for example) in Switzerland, we have noticed that the coverage is better in urban areas vs. rural environments. This may be due to telecom operators wishing to maximize coverage for the smart city use cases.
    2. Cost – After receiving quotes from different telecom operators and modem/sensor suppliers for two years, it appears that there are greater savings to be made in battery costs compared to telecommunication subscriptions costs. Low Power technologies allow to have smaller batteries with similar lifespans to existing M2M solutions (more than 5 years pending network and weather conditions) and smaller batteries mean lower costs.
    3. Quality of Service – When looking at quality of service there are extra considerations to take into account:

    • Is the sensor connected to a unit recording the values measured – we call this a Logger – or does it send the last reading according to the defined transmission schedule?
    • Is there a fallback strategy should there be a temporary issue with network coverage?
    • Is there a need to review the network access strategies (checking signal strength output for example) when operating a service on license free networks (like LoRa or Sigfox).

The technology selection process is dependent on the strategies decided by each telecom operator for 5G introduction (and these may differ between different operators in a same European country). Low Power networks (NB-IoT, CAT M, LoRa, Sigfox) will gradually become the replacement solutions for 2G and 3G beyond 2025. The variety of options and technology transition calendars per European country have led us to integrate solutions from third party technology providers. And we are now able to deliver different combinations of network access technologies in order to deliver the best Quality of Service in any given European country. At SilentSoft, we are currently integrating LoRa devices on top of the existing 3G/2G solutions. The integration of NB-IoT and Sigfox sensors will start in 2020.

Current understanding of the European landscape for 2G/3G Sunset

As already explained, MNOs have different roadmaps for their 2G/3G service shutdown. This is our current understanding of the 2G/3G sunset timelines in Europe. The information gathered here does not always come from “official” sources and there may be some mistakes.

CountryOperator2G/3G sunset date*
NorwayTelia Norge ASFinal 3G shutdown 2021, phasing out starts in 2019
NorwayTelenor Norge AS2G shutdown 2025, 3G shutdown 2020
SwedenThree3G shutdown 2020
SwedenTelenor Sverige AB3G shutdown 2020
SwedenTele2 AB3G shutdown 2025
SwedenTelia Company AB3G shutdown 2025
DenmarkThree3G shutdown 2020
NetherlandsKPN B.V.3G shutdown Jan 2022
GermanyVodafone GmbH2G shutdown 2025, 3G shutdown 2020
AustriaThree3G shutdown 2020
LiechtensteinTelecom Liechtenstein AG2G shutdown Jan 2021
SwitzerlandSwisscom Ltd2G shutdown 31.12.2020
SwitzerlandSunrise Communications AG2G shutdown 31.12.2021
SwitzerlandSalt2G shutdown 31.12.2020
United KingdomEE Limited3G shutdown 2022
United KingdomThree3G shutdown 2020
United KingdomBT3G shutdown 2021
IrelandThree3G shutdown 2020
FranceOrange3G shutdown 2021
ItalyVodafone Italia S.p.A2G shutdown 2025, 3G shutdown 2020
ItalyThree3G shutdown 2020
*Should you find errors in this table, do not hesitate to send us your corrections providing links and statements from official sources at info@silentsoft.com.
IoT Tech Expo Global 2020, London (UK)

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