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The death of 2G - what 2G switch off means for IoT

2g switch off gsm mast

In the world of IoT, the 2G network has become a safe and ubiquitous platform for the transportation of small packets of data and therefore the perfect platform for IoT data. Or so it was until the 2G switch off reared its ugly head...

If you google ‘Death of 2G’ or ‘2G switch off’ you are faced with many articles outlining the decline of this communication standard.

These articles proclaim that more and more operators are announcing the shutdown of their 2G networks to push users to better utilize 4G networks and above, making the cost-saving potential of using the lower power systems unavailable.

Current users of M2M or IoT devices and organizations looking to adopt an IoT strategy are becoming somewhat nervous about this. Many of them are connected to - or planning to be connected to - the low bandwidth low power IoT potential of the older 2G networks as they have proved a valuable, stable, ubiquitous, and cost-effective method of moving the small packets of data from M2M and IoT devices around the world.

Billions of devices = billions of problems

Gartner predicts that 20.4 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices will be deployed by 2020 and this kind of sensational rhetoric puts potentially challenging cost implications in front of companies who will, by then, have mature IoT strategies in place and potentially held to ransom by network providers. 

It seems this kind of scaremongering is a bit premature and, in some cases, a little inappropriate, especially when you look at the industry they are aimed at.

With the vast investments being made in IoT, suitable, low-cost networks are still critical to making these strategies successful. Finding smart technological solutions to business challenges is what drives most of us in any business, and none more so than the thousands of developers and software designers who create and use these platforms to communicate M2M and IoT data to and from devices.

Although some big players such as AT&T, Bell, and Telus have already closed down their 2G networks, other big players such as T-Mobile have been quick to make generous offers for the usage of their networks to plug the gaps. In fact, with almost all of the planned 2G network closures, there is still plenty of coverage from other players and for some significant time. 

Realistically, most network providers, especially in Europe, are not looking at making significant changes until well into the next decade, and some beyond that for exactly that reason. There is so much new traffic on the 2G networks from M2M and IoT that this has become a reason not to switch it off. In fact, it’s more likely that 3G will go long before the 2G switch off. While these solutions are great for the time being, the bigger picture is that, eventually, 2G networks will probably end up a rare commodity, if not extinct.

Is LTE the answer to the 2G switch off?

Serious players in the M2M and IoT platform industries are making inroads in alternative networks, and the team at u‑blox are always looking for ways to augment and improve their services and to adapt their offering to include the growing coverage offered by 4G and LTE-M and even newer technologies. By doing this, they can maintain global coverage without affecting service level or price. Because they are already working with a stable, powerful, and simple-to-adopt platform that is supported by a solid and respected network, the majority of their upcoming development work is now around future-proofing against this eventuality and offering the same global access for the same cost after the 2G switch off.

This is achieved in LTE-M by sticking to the lower-power and lower-bandwidth model that was followed in the legacy 2G offering. By not asking their customers to adapt to new technology in place of the existing offering but rather adding services as they become relevant, u‑blox is insistent that their current and potential customers won’t miss a beat. Connectivity to a low-cost, low-power, global network is possible now and will remain the absolute minimum of service offered with all the same advantages they were offered using the 2G network alone.

Simplicity STILL holds the key

Today it's possible to make hardware choices that allow you to use 2G, 3G, and LTE networks, thereby protecting your investment in hardware well into the future. The only potential changes to existing hardware may be to the firmware and the SIM. But as with all things IT based, devices and software are constantly evolving, improving, and reducing in cost. So, the potential to upgrade to a better, more efficient device that works on an improved and more ubiquitous network is both a natural and expedient thing to do. With u‑blox IoT Communication-as-a-Service, the offer to existing and new customers is simplicity; simplicity in facilitating and supporting the creation and maintenance of a solid IoT strategy. And it will remain just that. Simple. Strong, low cost, global, mobile, two-way connectivity for IoT devices for any industry vertical. One contract, one sim card connecting any device, anywhere in the world.

While moving away from 2G tech after the 2G switch-off could be painful for many IoT and M2M companies, it may be a necessary measure in order to get more stable and better networks in return. 4G coverage is growing fast, LTE-M and NB-IoT networks are steadily rolling out, and many module makers already support them. However, roaming agreements between carriers are in place for LTE, and this holds true for LTE-M,  but not for NB-IoT (at the time of writing).

This pain can be greatly reduced as u‑blox has a solid roadmap, based on LTE-M, aimed at making these strategic industrial policies as pain-free as possible. As emergent IoT industries are being forced down these routes, making the uptake of IoT as a global business tool challenging from both a technological and cost perspective, Thingstream’s assertion is that it should not be feared but embraced.

The death of 2G?… Pah!

IoT is set to serve businesses in so many beneficial ways, but a lot of this depends on that data being able to be harvested in a timely and safe way. The u‑blox Thingstream platform was conceived and designed to do this in such a way that organizations will be able to trust connections through the platform now and well into the future. Nobody really knows where technology will be in 20 years, but for the foreseeable future, IoT holds the key to real-time data being used instead of analyzed. Having access to that data is something we can rely on now, and as technology improves, our goal is to continue to improve the platform’s already high performance.

So, farewell 2G… eventually! We really like you, but we’re not sentimental, and we’re ready for the new reality when the 2G switch off finally arrives.

For more information on how u‑blox enables IoT across a number of sectors, get in touch.