Cellular Longevity: Building Block Solutions Prep Operators for 2G Sunset
October 05, 2021
Cat-M and Narrowband IoT enable transition for emerging low power wide area network performance.
2G (GSM) still rules many European regions. Even as some operators are winding down their GSM operations, others have indicated 2G may outlive 3G technologies. With GSM systems that are long proven in supporting broad voice coverage and legacy operations such as machine-to-machine communications, this strategic consideration comes into play as 4G LTE/5G displaces 3G.
Is moving to 4G LTE or 5G a smart or necessary strategy for operators facing soon-to-be-obsolete cellular systems? It’s a huge question, particularly for those servicing demanding connected applications, like the real-time supply chain tracking imperative to the safe and successful movement of perishable or temperature-controlled goods and assets. More suitable are technologies such as Category M (Cat-M) or Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) – technologies evolved from 4G LTE but designed for the emerging low power wide area network (LPWAN). The key is interoperability, now accessible via building block IoT platforms that operate with existing 2G/3G systems and ensure their readiness for next-generation cellular technologies.
In contrast to 5G, Cat-M and NB-IoT are significantly less expensive, with features better aligned to the memory and battery demands of cold chain applications. It isn’t always necessary for real-time trackers to transmit big data quickly. More likely, transmission of smaller data packets must arrive more frequently from a broad spectrum of sensors tracking critical factors such as location, temperature, humidity, etc. For system operators, this means Cat-M or NB-IoT delivers a strong price-performance balance for LPWAN systems.
Mobile IoT solutions can take 12 to 18 months to develop, with certification required to validate the move to low power, low bandwidth networks. Building block solutions can accelerate this process, providing a turnkey hardware platform paired with SIM and data plan for simpler device management. On this landscape, flexibility adds value, such as Cat-M support or hardware-only options for operators with well-established platforms or committed airtime contracts, or easier "build vs. buy" decisions for those developing complete, next-gen connectivity solutions.
2025 will be here fast – it’s the anticipated timeline when all regions in Europe achieve 2G sunset. At the same time, existing deployed devices may still be delivering on their promised battery performance of ten years or more. These devices must be designed for interoperability – continuing their support of 2G and seamlessly shifting to new protocols when operators flip the switch to new networks. It’s a smart strategy, keeping OEMs focused on low-cost, long-life technologies – without the expense and resource drain of on-site system retrofits or product redesigns. As the next several years keep OEMs and integrators on their toes, facing fast changes and a full slate of new connectivity options, building blocks enable intelligent, strategic design choices.