Viewpoint: Sunset of 3G May Leave Some Connected Vehicles in the Dark

By Ray Kosick | April 11, 2022

Some of the most important telematics and fleet management components revolve around having continuous and effective communication, network reliability, reputable service, and streamlined operations, all common knowledge among most fleet operators.

Surprisingly then, as much of the nation upgrades to 4G or 5G mobile network connectivity, many in the fleet industry continue operating on 3G networks. It’s been relatively dependable thus far, but as stronger connections become more common – reaching farther and wider – the network providers have started phasing out 3G to create greater network connectivity with 4G and 5G technology. This retirement of 3G connectivity is known as the “3G Sunset.”

In late 2021, the Federal Communications Commission issued an alert warning the public about the 3G phaseout. AT&T was the first to shut down its 3G network in February. Sprint followed suit in March, T-Mobile will make the change in July and Verizon plans to shut down 3G connectivity in December. The bottom line: time is running out to make the shift to a newer network and fleets must act quickly to ensure operational continuity and prevent data loss.

Here is what’s at stake

According to ABI Research, the 3G sunset could have a detrimental effect on fleet vehicles of all sizes that are critical to a supply chain and services infrastructure that’s already incredibly strained. Susan Beardslee, supply chain and logistics principal analyst at ABI Research, reported that there could be serious compliance, safety, vehicle health and operational capability challenges to the fleet industry, all during a time when the nation is already seeing critical shortages of consumer and business products and services. ABI also noted that smaller fleets are more likely to delay the upgrade from 3G.

We know fleets equipped with telematics devices have become an industry standard for improved accountability, compliance, efficiency and safety. But with so many fleets still using 3G connected devices, managers are approaching a time when they will have to take quick action and upgrade their technology to avoid losing access to phones, tablets and other telematics devices that use SIM cards to remotely access vehicle and driver data.

Because 3G will ultimately be phased out, any 3G service that is currently being used will become less and less reliable. And during the short period that the service continues, there’s no guarantee that the connectivity will remain at a strength that is needed for fleet telematics. Users can expect to see a loss in service and more blackspots as the 3G infrastructure receives less support.

The benefits of upgrading

It’s easy to become complacent in the services and tools we use, but the evolution of technology is a key part to keeping a strong, thriving business.

While the 3G shutdown might cause temporary struggles, the upgrade is ultimately beneficial for fleets, improving efficiency as it provides access to:

  • Wider coverage range
  • Faster data speeds
  • Higher bandwidth
  • Greater compatibility with emerging technologies
  • A decrease in delay times due to lagging communication
Knowing which upgrade to make

As fleet managers begin phasing out 3G-supported fleet telematics, it’s important to know they aren’t required to make an immediate leap to 5G to continue recording service data, tracking vehicle location, staying in compliance, avoiding a loss of vehicle and driver data, and to keep operations running smoothly. In fact, 4G is currently the telematics industry connectivity standard for most fleets, and it’s expected to stay that way for the next seven to 10 years.

Running several hundred times faster than 3G speeds, 4G can transfer telematics data at up to 100 megabytes per second. However, as fleets begin transitioning to 5G in the coming years, data speeds will become 5,000 times faster than with 3G – and far more reliable.

Consider this: 5G will allow fleet managers the opportunity to do things like:

  • Engage in stable, reliable video interactions with their drivers in the field
  • Provide video analytics to assess safety risks to vehicles
  • Reduce latency experienced on previous networks
  • Offer high-network reliability and better accuracy in locating and managing vehicles in the field

All the above will help to increase communication and collaboration that happens between the fleet and home base, cutting down on delay times and dramatically increasing productivity.

Make the switch

As the sunset looms, there are a handful of steps you can take as you prepare to upgrade your fleet:

  • Evaluate— Take inventory of all your devices to determine how extensive the transition will be. If most of your telematics devices rely on 3G connectivity, it may be necessary to transition in phases, prioritizing the upgrade of more critical areas first.
  • Consult with experts– Team up with your telematics provider to fully understand what deadlines you’re up against, the scope of coverage, network carrier specifications and more. Your provider will be an important part of the transition, as they can highlight potential blind spots that might create gaps in coverage once the upgrade is completed.
  • Schedule installation— Factor in plenty of time to transition your fleet before the shutdown. Time is of the essence, so make sure you maximize opportunities to upgrade quickly. Rely on installation partners to maintain efficiency and ease.
  • Prepare your fleet for what’s to come— Create a seamless transition plan to guide your fleet through the upgrade. Work with your provider to opt-in for proactive updates, and ensure they offer a warranty and 24/7 support.

Making the switch from 3G might seem overwhelming, but upgrading your telematics technology is sure to modernize your fleet and support your growth as a business, ultimately contributing to your forward momentum and profitability.

About Ray Kosick

Kosick is product manager at GPS Insight.

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