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Sunsetting of 2G, 3G Cellular Networks (Implications for IoT Industry)

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I wanted to share an article I found that may be of interest to the forum, especially those in the IoT hardware industry. This might be common knowledge in the IoT industry but I'm a professional electronics designer in another industry as well as a hobbyist, and I didn't realize this was happening. Certain companies (such as particle.io) still sell 2G/3G modules, so I hope this thread helps you become more aware of what you are buying into before developing a whole product around a dying infrastructure!

2G, 3G, 4G LTE Network Shutdown Updates

(Digi-Key Article)
Note: the title is a bit clickbaity, because 4G LTE IS NOT shutting down in the foreseeable future, but we'll get to that in a second.

Key Points:
  • IoT (Internet of Things) devices can be connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot but are limited by the range of the hotspot. A solution is using a cellular network to always remain connected wherever there is cell service. This is great for connecting devices in large open spaces, or mobile platforms for example.
  • In the past devices have been built to work using the 2G or 3G system. Both of these systems are due for effective shutdown by major carriers in the next 2 years.
    • The reason is because they take up radio spectrum space needed for 4G and 5G.
    • In general carriers will stop activating new accounts, before shutting down service completely.
  • 4G LTE is expected to enjoy a long lifetime, the article says >10 years.
    • Other technologies built on 4G, such as LTE-M and NB-IoT will continue to be viable.
    • 4G and 5G share the same spectrum but carriers can share the entire bandwidth based on demand, rather than having to split the spectrum in advance (limiting both regardless of demand)
  • 5G is currently a premium technology, and upgrading may not make sense for every application. However, being an emerging technology, it has the power to open up new solutions to problems requiring high bandwidth or low latency.
  • Sunsetting varies by country. Some countries still support the older technologies and have no immediate plans to sunset.

Considerations:
  • Does my product rely on infrastructure that is destined for immediate shutdown?
  • Does my system need to outlive the 10 year or so estimation of LTE's lifetime?
  • Does my system really need the benefits of 5G over 4G LTE?
  • What existing applications that use slower and older networks could be value-skewed by leveraging 4G or 5G?
 

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