Having a reliable connection to wireless networks is essential for transportation and logistics companies of all sizes. From electronic logging devices (ELDs) transmitting telematics data, to sensors sending important vehicle health or location data to the back office, connectivity has become an integral part of ensuring efficient and effective trucking operations.
We caught up with Bill Dussell, senior director of carrier relations for Trimble, to get the most current updates on the status of wireless carrier networks (think AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile/Sprint, for example). These include current networks like 3G and 4G LTE, as well as some of the future connection options (hello, 5G!) coming online soon.
Tell us about your role with Trimble Transportation. How long have you been with the company?
I joined Trimble back in 1991, and since then have held various roles throughout the years. I was originally brought on to help bring GPS technology to automotive companies and suppliers. At the time, no automotive company offered cars with in-vehicle navigation – but I’m happy to say we were quite successful, and just look at where things are now!
After that, I took a role working with a mobile computing company where I assisted with building GPS into personal mobile devices – back then, it was technologies like PDAs and BlackBerrys. Again, that technology advanced to the point where now everyone has a mobile device in their pocket that can serve as a GPS.
Most recently, I have been serving as Trimble’s senior director of carrier relations. I’ve been on both the product and the wireless connectivity sides of things, and have been through several previous network migrations, from CDPD to 2G, 2G to 3G, and now, of course, 3G to 4G LTE.
Today, I work with product teams, engineering groups, operations and planners across all Trimble business units to ensure that the customer-facing solutions they offer have the ability to connect and scale.
What’s new with wireless networks these days?
History has a way of repeating itself: the big news these days, in the transportation industry and others, is around the sunset of CDMA and 3G HSPA networks in the U.S.
As I mentioned, I’ve been through a few network migrations like this before. Basically, there is a limited amount of radio frequency (RF) spectrum used for wireless communications – and you can’t invent more, due to the laws of physics.
Each time the carriers have migrated to a new network technology, it’s because the wireless industry has developed technology that uses the spectrum more efficiently.
Overall, this is a good thing for everyone: it means our internet connections will be faster, more geographically comprehensive, and sometimes, less expensive in the long run.
So, that brings us to the migration on everyone’s minds today – moving from the 3G network to 4G LTE (long-term evolution) network, and how that will affect solutions and applications across all industries, including transportation and logistics.
What does the 3G sunset mean for the transportation industry?
The dates for when the 3G sunset in the U.S. will occur vary between wireless carriers. Suffice it to say, however, each of the major 3G networks will begin to be shut down in January 2022 with all shutdowns completed by the end of 2022.
Even if a particular 3G network is not shut down completely, the service quality of the remaining portion is expected to degrade through the year. So, trucking carriers that are using older devices that are not yet 4G LTE-enabled may see a decline in both connection speed and geographic coverage. Sooner or later, devices that do not support 4G LTE will not be able to find service in the U.S.
In an industry like transportation where freight is being moved all across the country, that limited geographic coverage is not something you want to have to worry about.
If your operation is dependent on having connectivity, like most are in the trucking industry, you can’t really afford to bet on when you’ll lose network coverage. The best bet is to be proactive and upgrade your hardware now, to ensure that you’ll have uninterrupted connectivity.
What are some of the benefits of moving to 4G LTE-enabled devices?
There are a lot of benefits to operating on the 4G LTE network. The connection speed is much faster and more reliable, with less latency – which enables new solutions and features that may not previously have been available due to the sheer amount of data that would need to be transmitted.
The geographic coverage of the 4G LTE network is also more robust and comprehensive across the U.S., helping ensure that there are fewer “dead zones” where your trucks can’t be tracked.
Video Intelligence and real-time visibility are examples of solutions that are enhanced by 4G connectivity, with higher-resolution video and more accurate, frequent location tracking “pings” from sensors.
According to the wireless carriers, the 4G LTE networks will be fully operational until at least 2030, ensuring that new devices you invest in today will continue to work for many years to come. When you compare that to the lifespan of your average smartphone, that’s a pretty solid investment.
We’re starting to hear more about 5G networks coming online across the U.S. What will 5G enable, and when do you expect 5G networks to be functional enough to support the transportation industry?
The current rollout of 5G is focused on solutions and applications that require extremely high bandwidth and low latency. If you think of wireless connection as a pipe, bandwidth would be the size of the pipe that determines the flow rate, and while latency is the length of the pipe: 5G is a bigger, shorter pipe and a faster flow.
The new 5G network holds a lot of promise for enabling even more data-heavy solutions, especially those that need to analyze data extremely quickly. This might be in applications like factory automation, autonomous vehicles or remote diagnostics, where technology must have very fast reaction times in the milliseconds.
Although this network is promising, it will still be quite some time before it is geographically comprehensive enough to support the transportation industry, which needs coverage everywhere.
Anything else you’d like to add?
At Trimble, we spend a lot of time thinking about cybersecurity to ensure that our solutions are secure, reliable and available any time. We go to great lengths to establish enterprise-class connectivity between mobile devices and the cloud, because we know just how important it is to keep our customers’ data safe and secure.
Here are a few examples of how we protect our customers from increasingly sophisticated attacks:
We never use public network connections between mobile devices and wireless carrier networks. This ensures that devices are not exposed to the public sphere, and thus avoids many of the common attacks like botnets, etc. Trimble utilizes private network connections, ensuring it’s secure.
We use private IP addresses that are not published on the internet, further keeping customers’ connections invisible to web prowlers and hackers.
Our solutions are also protected by a variety of other cybersecurity features that further protect your sensitive data and assets, such as secure communication channels, dual VPNs, geographically diverse connection access points and more.
We don’t take cybersecurity for granted, and neither should your company – you need your data and assets available 24/7, and we prioritize keeping you up and running by keeping you safe.
Thanks so much, Bill!
Looking for more information about the evolution of wireless networks in the transportation industry and how you can stay ahead of these changes?
Check out our eBook, “The Fleet Manager’s Essential Guide to Evolving Wireless Networks” to get the facts and prepare your business to take advantage of the latest advancements in wireless connectivity.