What is the 3G Sunset?

April 29, 2022

3g sunset

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Key Takeaways

By the end of 2022, many of the U.S.’s largest wireless carriers will shut down their 3G networks. This is known as the 3G sunset or retirement. When operators like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile shut off this cellular infrastructure, 3G devices based on this network technology will no longer have a connection. Find out what this means for your fleet devices.

What is the 3G sunset?

Today, with the fourth generation (4G) of wireless mobile technology widely available and with operators developing the fifth generation (5G), operators around the world have already or are in the process of shutting down 3G networks. This is known as the 3G network sunset or retirement.

When operators like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile shut off this cellular infrastructure, 3G devices based on this network technology will no longer have a connection. Sunsetting older infrastructure makes room for new technologies and frees up bandwidth for faster 4G and 5G signals.

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When are operators sunsetting their 3G networks?

In the U.S., several operators have announced their plans to sunset their 3G services. Verizon initially planned to shut down 3G at the end of 2020 and delayed it to 2022. Similarly, T-Mobile had planned to sunset 3G in January 2021 but delayed it as well.

Currently, the following U.S. wireless carriers have announced these 3G sunset dates:

  • Verizon: December 2022

  • AT&T: February 2022

  • T-Mobile (Sprint): January 2022 (CDMA network) They will also retire all 4G LTE networks in June 2022

  • T-Mobile: July 2022

Around the world, 3G networks have already been shut down or are also in the process of phasing it out.

Why are telecommunication companies sunsetting 3G networks?

3G is the third generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology. The first commercial 3G technology was introduced in the early 2000s. Since then, operators have adopted the fourth generation (4G) and are deploying the fifth generation (5G). Due to the increasing adoption of the faster, more powerful 4G, 3G usage has declined for years.

Similar to maintaining an older vehicle, the upkeep isn’t always worth the effort and expense. Cellular network providers have cited the desire to invest in developing their 5G networks and other network improvements as reasons to phase out 3G technology.

What does the 3G sunset mean for fleets?

After the 3G network shutdown, 3G devices will no longer work. This shutdown includes mobile devices like phones, tablets, and 3G telematics hardware. This means fleet managers could:

  • Lose connectivity to vehicle and driver data

  • Not be able to record hours of service data

  • Be unable to track vehicle location or monitor vehicle health

  • Risk compliance violations based on the above

The shutdown will impact organizations that rely on 3G technologies. Many current telematics technologies use both 2G and 3G networks to connect drivers, vehicles, and fleets. These will need to get upgraded to devices that support 4G before the shutdown to prevent business interruptions.

Public fleets such as governments and schools are also colliding with the shutdown at the same time that they are subject to limited resources and labor shortages. And, it has been difficult to get ahead of the transition to 4G devices, amidst supply chain shortages as well. Due to the siloed nature of government agencies, many are struggling to not only transition, but to even take inventory of their 3G devices across all their departments. This, alongside supply chain and resource limitations, will leave many public agencies without coverage post-shutdown dates.

Upgrading to 4G or 5G networks

Upgrading to 4G or 5G gives fleets a much faster connection. 4G, the current standard of cellular carriers, was released in the late 2000s and is 500 times faster than 3G. It’s able to support high-definition mobile, television, and video conferencing. As the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) — internet-connected devices — grows, more “things” in the workplace will rely on a fast network for connectivity. In particular, IoT devices like electronic logging devices (ELD) and dash cams can benefit from 4G’s improved reliability, higher bandwidth,  and extended coverage.

With every network operator focusing on 5G deployment, 5G supported devices will soon follow. 5G offers improved speeds, more bandwidth, and reduced latency over 4G. Potentially, 5G could be up to 100 times faster than 4G. But the lower latency is even better for businesses. Think of latency as a delay that slows down data transfers. 5G shrinks latency significantly over 4G, allowing connected devices to rely on the cloud to process data. For example, a self-driving car might use 5G to make real-time navigational decisions using cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI).

How can fleets prepare for 3G sunsetting?

As the shutdown dates approach, fleets will need to form a plan for switching over to prevent disruptions to operations. It’s best to start early to ensure business systems are compatible with 4G devices and enough devices are in stock. (Supply goes down as organizations start scrambling to upgrade.)

Here’s organizations can start preparing:

  • Compile a 3G telematics device inventory. First, managers need to check how many devices are operating on 3G networks.

  • Evaluate providers. See what your organization needs and which provider can meet these needs. Check with your current providers to see if they are offering a discounted upgrade or any guidance.

  • Create a 4G transition plan. Calculate the time it will take to remove and replace the 3G devices in your fleet. Plan a timetable for the switchover.

  • Choose your telematics installer and schedule installation. Get the installer ready to uninstall the old devices and install the new ones. Businesses with internal technicians will want to plan the proper amount of time for the replacement. Also, businesses will need to factor in external technicians’ availability.

  • Communicate changes and provide training. After the device rollout, ensure everyone on the team—from drivers to dispatchers—learns how to use the new technology.

By upgrading sooner, businesses can start benefiting from newer technology and save on last-minute costs.

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