2G and 3G sunsetting explained

What is sunsetting?

If you follow the development of mobile technology, it’s very likely you’ve come across the term ‘sunsetting’. But what is sunsetting?

Let’s start with the basics. The G in 2G and 3G stands for ‘generation’. Mobile networks have been upgrading their technical platforms since the dawn of mobile technology, and each successive generation represents improvements in bandwidth and reliability. 5G is currently being rolled out in the UK, and 6G is already being developed as its successor.

However, as each network evolves its technology to the next generation, there’s a cost attached to maintaining the generations that have gone before. As more traffic moves onto the newer generations, mobile network operators (or MNOs) have a vested interested in putting more resource into maintaining them. Importantly, new generations of technology also require the freeing up of frequency spectrum to make way for what’s coming.

For these two reasons – commercial and technical – the term ‘sunsetting’ has been coined to describe the way that older services like 2G and 3G are being considered for shutdown by mobile networks.

Why is sunsetting important?

Many millions of devices around the world – from older mobile phones to smart meters – depend on 2G and 3G networks to operate. Most cannot be easily adapted to run on later network generations. This means that if your chosen network decides to shut down its 2G or 3G service, it could mean your device will lose its connectivity, and effectively, become obsolete.

And the story doesn’t end there. There are three other major reasons why sunsetting is important, particularly for the IoT industry.

Reason 1: newer technology is more expensive

The cost of embedding 4G or 5G technology in an IoT device is typically between 2 and 3 times more expensive than using 2G or 3G technology. The relative cost-effectiveness of 2G and 3G means that they can be embedded in devices cheaply and in mass quantities, which in itself is important for purchasing customers who need to be able to roll out devices as cheaply as possible. For this reason, manufacturers have a huge incentive to stick with 2G or 3G if they possibly can.

Reason 2: 2G and 3G are reliable, proven platforms

2G and 3G networks are still profoundly important as platforms for IoT. They are proven, stable technologies that are comparatively cheap to deploy and maintain. They provide the ideal safety net for voice, text and low-volume data in areas where coverage is required. Manufacturers who opt for 4G and 5G are also opting for a less reliable platform that in places may be yet to fully demonstrate the guaranteed continuity of service of its predecessors.

Reason 3: businesses need certainty to operate

Despite government efforts to gain consensus commitment from mobile network operators that would give the IoT sector certainty until 2033 – most network operators have not made fixed plans for when they will sunset their 2G and 3G networks. This creates great uncertainty for any business that depends on mobile technology for the connectivity of its products. Long-term decisions over network choice are harder to make, and more risky.

This uncertainty is significantly slowing the growth of IoT around the world. IoT manufacturers caught in the sunsetting network dilemma can’t commit to mass manufacturing with any certainty. They face a critical decision – whether to opt for more costly 4G or 5G embedded technology, or to hope that their chosen network will decide to run 2G or 3G for at least five more years to come. This reduces choice in the market, and delays more widespread adoption of key IoT devices.

Why OV offers the answer to sunsetting

The central problem for a manufacturer or solution provider hoping to rely on 2G and 3G well into the future is the selection of a single network. Any one network could announce at any time that they will retire their 2G or 3G service on a specific date. Choosing a network provider can therefore feel like a bit of a lottery.

But what if it was possible to be both committed to 2G and 3G, but also be network-agnostic? In other words, capitalising on the cost-effectiveness that 2G and 3G offers, but having the flexibility to be able to change service providers if one or more networks decides to sunset its service?

At OV, that’s exactly what we offer. Ours is a multi-network platform, that enables providers to switch at any time to any of the remaining available 2G or 3G networks in a given territory. No more having to worry about when your provider will sunset – OV’s platform means that as long as 2G or 3G is available on at least one network in your chosen network, your IoT devices in the field will be supported. Our network-independence gives your users the freedom to move between networks whenever it’s needed.

Let’s talk

If you’re a manufacturer or provider who’s facing the sunsetting dilemma, OV offers the way through. Just drop us a line and we’ll get together for an initial chat.