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As Consumers Embrace 5G, Businesses And Organizations Must Transition To 4G

By News Creatives Authors , in Small Business , at September 2, 2021

COO of Zonar, pioneering smart fleet management solutions in vocational, pupil, mass transit and commercial trucking industries.

In technology, unlike in nature, evolution happens at a rapid speed. Since 1979, when the first 1G network was launched in Japan, four other evolutions of network technology have emerged. In 2019, South Korea was the first nation to offer 5G. Since then, all major telecommunications carriers in the U.S. (including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile) have joined the 5G rollout. T-Mobile’s 3G network is currently scheduled for shutdown on October 1, 2021, with many other 3G networks to follow by the end of 2022.

A variety of businesses and organizations still rely on 2G and 3G networks for connectivity and management solutions — for instance, first responders and government agencies may use them on a state or local level. School districts may also use 3G devices to connect school buses with administrative offices and provide real-time insight into fleet performance, vehicle locations and on-time arrival.

The sunset of 2G and 3G networks enables telecoms providers to repurpose their mid-band spectrum for 5G networks. This is also great for consumers, who will benefit from the major 5G rollouts, but it’s not so great for businesses and organizations that rely on the ongoing performance of 2G and 3G networks.

A significant number of industries that are critical to our nation’s safety infrastructure could be impacted by the 3G sunset. Notably, the Alarm Industry Communications Committee has raised concerns about the 6 million alarms that rely on Verizon and AT&T’s 3G networks. In addition, consumers and companies that rely on smartphones that leverage 3G networks will be impacted by the shutdown. Automobile manufacturers such as BMW have also announced that vehicles equipped with 3G connections will no longer be able to receive certain services. I am also seeing people raise concerns about the impact on the health care industry, as many medical tracking devices that consumers and first responders rely on could be rendered inoperable after the 3G sunset.

The Tightening Of Technology Budgets

Today’s consumers have grown accustomed to a certain amount of turnover with their personal devices, particularly smartphones. This doesn’t always apply in the business sphere. Often, organizations must spread technology budgets across departments and fund a variety of needs, such as new or upgraded devices for staff; advanced connectivity solutions, such as dedicated internet or multiprotocol label switching (MPLS); cybersecurity services to protect sensitive consumer data; and new solutions that improve the customer experience and keep a business competitive. Because of this, organizations often push off device upgrades until they are deemed absolutely necessary.

Covid-19 seems to have exacerbated this trend. Technology budgets that were already tight before the start of the pandemic were put on hold at some companies in the midst of the economic crisis, and many businesses were wary of spending money in such an uncertain business environment. To date, government stimulus packages have brought some relief to businesses. Some companies may have been able to use loans and grant programs to fund investments in technology.

Time To Play Catch-Up

Today, the reality is that many businesses in the U.S. likely lost a year that they otherwise could have spent getting ahead of the 3G sunset. As a result, innovators across industries have developed strategic plans to help customers navigate the sunset and transition or upgrade their systems for 4G compatibility. Vendors have been forced to be innovative in light of these changes, but more time would likely have been useful for making this transition.

The global supply chain issues that the logistics and delivery industries, among others, felt over the last year have added an unprecedented level of uncertainty to the compressed time frame for upgrading businesses’ entire operations. Additionally, the ongoing shortage of computer chips could cause problems for the production of 4G and 5G devices.

How can businesses today upgrade their 2G and 3G devices if vendors and manufacturers cannot secure enough of the components necessary to produce them?

Various industries leverage 2G and 3G devices, which range from telematics units to connected onboard devices such as smartphones or tablets. Without access to necessary semiconductors through their normal supply chains, vendors may have to scour the earth for the materials and components they need to design and produce new 4G devices. Thankfully, even with 2022 on the horizon, many technology companies likely had time over the last 18 months to work around some of these challenges.

A Path Forward For Creative 4G Solutions

One solution would be to wait out the supply chain shortage and rely on careful project planning to replace old devices and install new ones in a short period of time. This could work for some customers, particularly those in seasonal industries that have established off-seasons that they can readily leverage for maintenance and upgrades.

To combat this, organizations should plan extensively with their vendors. Prioritize your critical business needs and determine how you can align them with what is available in your supply chain. This might mean making partial orders in some cases. The supply chain issue goes beyond simple technology upgrades, and organizations need to consider the time and implementation requirements for each asset they need to maintain operations. Customers and vendors should work closely together to resolve their supply chain needs. It’s on the vendors to be innovative with their engineering solutions, and it’s on the customers to be creative in their thinking and planning.

These kinds of workarounds can offer businesses across industries a creative, cost-effective solution to the 2G and 3G sunset problem. Such solutions could also be useful models to refer to if the emergence of future 6G and 7G networks results in the sunset of today’s 4G network.

In the future, I hope that the lessons learned from this 2G and 3G sunset period will inspire more mindful consideration of business needs during a rollout of a next-generation consumer network.

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