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How Wireless Network Sunsets Affect Your Older In-Cab Hardware

When AT&T turned down its 2G network in 2017, reported Sierra Wireless, around 70% of San Francisco’s buses and trains disappeared from the city’s NextMuni system map, which tracks vehicle locations in real-time and predicts arrival times. Freight transportation and trucking companies that have deployed solutions that rely on 2G and 3G cellular-based devices may soon face a similar disruption.

Fleets will soon need to replace in-cab communications and tracking systems that rely on 2G and 3G networks, said John Binder, former director of wireless operations for Trimble Transportation. “In-cab communications and tracking systems used by many fleets rely on older 2G and 3G networks, which are being phased out,” he said. “The sunset is all about network capacity throughput and latency, and the exponential growth in the use of wireless devices is forcing a transition to networks capable of handling the anticipated volume in years to come.”

Wireless carriers, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, are planning to sunset portions of their networks that run on 2G and 3G technologies from 2020 to 2022, potentially impacting thousands of mobile devices used in trucking, Binder explained. Currently on the sunset list are 2G and 3G GSM and CDMA networks. 

Replacing these networks are 4G LTE networks that have been up since the early 2010s, and which are expected to be supported until after 2030, Binder added. The next jump in wireless technology will be to 5G networks, which are just being rolled out.

“Once upon a time, it was enough to see where vehicles were,” Paul Miller, connected fleets and product manager at Verizon Connect, told Fleet Owner magazine. “Now, we expect to have additional insights at our fingertips regarding operational planning, compliance management, safety reporting and financial performance.”


A rise in smart devices is driving wireless network sunsets

The surge in smart devices has put a strain on mobile networks, According to research by Gartner, in just the past few years the world has gone from 6.4 billion connected devices to more than 20 billion in 2020, and 80 million of those are forecasted to be transportation endpoints. That surge in devices is why fleets must update their mobile technology.

Lisa Park, assistant vice president of Internet of Things business development at AT&T, told Fleet Owner that lessons learned from its 2G sunset can drive the success of 3G sunset plans. AT&T, she added, has been advising its commercial customers “to begin their migration planning as soon as possible to upgrade devices and solutions to 4G LTE to avoid possible service disruption.”

What’s important to note is that Trimble has been highly involved in wireless technology change with our partners to help our customers make the right decision at the right point, John Binder said. “We’re linked to networks, engaged and participating to understand where the technology is going,” he related. “We’re actively partnered with equipment vendors and working to drive technology innovation.”


How to prepare for impending wireless network sunsets

Sierra Wireless advised fleets to take four steps to help avoid the disruption that the impending 2G/3G sunset will cause, including:

  • Perform a comprehensive audit to determine what it will take to update or replace technology and build a realistic implementation timeline

  • Evaluate operational requirements to maintain connectivity based on the needs of your business sector and cellular coverage in your operating areas

  • Future-proof because failing to design long-term can result in an even more complex and costly project down the road as network capabilities continue to change and technology evolves

  • Work with a technology partner to minimize the complexity of the transition to new cellular technologies, and working with a single partner instead of trying to coordinate multiple vendors and piece together disparate solutions ensures projects will be managed efficiently and strategically



Tim Giddens, a Trimble regional account manager, noted that the company provides options in its lineup of wireless technologies. Those products include easy to install gateways and displays. For example, the Trimble Duo, which includes a connected gateway that requires one cable from the vehicle’s diagnostic port and comes with fixed and tablet display options, can be up and running in as little as 15 minutes.

“Our solutions let users choose features based on their needs, installation and price,” Giddens said. “With the flexibility to use mounted and portable display devices and connectivity choices, fleets can choose what’s right for their operation. Trimble also offers a hardware-as-a-service program under which users can get new hardware via a subscription, similar to how many of them now access software.”


See how Trimble can help you navigate to LTE connectivity

Since trucks rely on near-constant connectivity for their day-to-day operations, the 2G/3G network sunset will be a big challenge. But with the migration from older to new cellular networks and the need to upgrade onboard hardware, fleets also have an opportunity to streamline their technology strategy.

Curious to learn more about wireless network sunsets and how to prepare your fleet? Check out our detailed eBook, The Fleet Manager’s Essential Guide to Evolving Wireless Networks, to get key details on these sunsets and how to ensure your fleet and drivers’ continued connectivity.