IoT demands alternatives as 3G sunset looms


By Nick Lambrou, CEO, Thinxtra
Monday, 30 October, 2023

IoT demands alternatives as 3G sunset looms

Time has officially been called on 3G. Over the course of the next 12 months — give or take — Australian and New Zealand telcos will shut down 3G cellular networks as part of the mobile communications technology evolution.

Better known in industry as the 3G sunset, phasing out is a daunting prospect for organisations that rely on millions of internet-connected devices. Without 3G those IoT devices essentially become inoperable, impacting industrial organisations, manufacturers, utilities providers, supermarkets, vending machine operators and retailers, among others. The logistics and trucking sectors will be hit especially hard, as electronic logging devices used for recording hours will go offline. In an illustration of the reach of 3G, some windmills will no longer be able to provide data to operators.

The shutdown of 3G, while not abrupt, is forcing a decision and potentially causing significant disruption, as IoT fleets will need updated hardware and new connectivity solutions to continue operation. While the move will impact BAU in the short term, it offers opportunity to utilise more advanced and effective connectivity options that can deliver more valuable data insights and drive greater resilience.

Transforma’s Enterprise IoT Connectivity 2022 Survey revealed that 58% of respondents expected benefits to arise from a 3G shutdown and migration. These included better capabilities, lower cost and better management of devices. While the transition will not happen overnight, it’s crucial to plan well ahead to maximise gains. To that end, telcos have been encouraging users to upgrade their technology early, leading many companies to look at 4G and 5G.

Some applications will be well-suited to 4G- and 5G-compatible devices, particularly those where large volumes of data must be consistently transmitted. But for many cases, 4G and 5G are overkill; these networks offer a considerable processing upgrade over 3G, but come with a hefty price tag — in both infrastructure and higher network rates — putting them out of reach for fleets that only require smaller volumes of information to be communicated in real time at intervals. That’s where connectivity built for IoT — and also IoT at scale — becomes a viable alternative.

0G is a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN), making it ideal for devices that track the location of parcels and other goods (including perishables, for example). 0G supports data transfers up to 1 Mbps over a wider area than 3G, 4G and 5G networks, making it suitable for large-scale projects like asset tracking or smart city installations.

As an example, Coles leverages 0G connectivity for IoT devices that monitor the location of and measure shock for over 4500 smart food bins moving poultry between farms and its distribution centre. This has enabled a connected and transparent supply chain with timely insights into geolocation, geofencing, impact events, temperature and bin status, allowing Coles to optimise transport routes and equipment pooling. In New Zealand, AGP is using 0G for around-the-clock tracking of its glass products and more than 1750 delivery trolleys (valued at NZ$3000 each), ensuring it avoids losing assets, and maintaining its four-day order-to-delivery service.

There are also instances where a cellular solution is best suited. Similar to 0G, cellular connectivity has been specifically designed for IoT implementations. Importantly, there are cellular solutions that offer global coverage, powered by multiple carriers. This enables connectivity to be seamless no matter where companies are based or operate to maintain protection against downtime.

As the era of 3G comes to an end, preparedness will be crucial to minimise operational disruption and avoid cost blowouts down the line. With the transition set to gear up IoT fleets for the long term, it’s crucial that companies gear their investment to be fit for purpose.

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