Telstra announced in October 2019 that it would be shutting down its 3G network in June 2024. For context, that announcement is already two years old and at the time of writing, only two and a half years or 31 months remain for our customers to transition their devices and services to 4G,5G, LTE-M and NB-IoT networks. This article will talk to the considerations, complexities and challenges affecting Internet of Things (IoT) applications for those who have not yet begun this migration journey.
One of the common questions we are asked is why Telstra is turning off the 3G as it continues to meet the needs of their IoT applications. The 3G standard was introduced in Australia in 2003 and there have been many advances in cellular technologies since then. In all, by 2024, 3G will have been in existence for 21 years. There have been tremendous advances and improvements in speed, latency and power consumption with the introduction of 4G, 5G, LTE-M and NB-IoT networks over this period. 4G is in every way superior to 3G and will have equivalent coverage to 3G prior to the closure date and 5G is even better. The 3G closure is important as it frees up low-band 850MHz spectrum for use in expanding and extending the reach of our 5G services. The right migration strategy can help your business not just migrate off 3G, but put into place transformative solutions to improve operations, help drive faster business decisions, improve customer service, and more well into the future.
IoT solutions in most cases do not require high speed nor low latency networks but power consumption is becoming significantly more important for applications such as digital water metering and others. Another factor is the scale of IoT. Telstra has seen the IoT market grow significantly over the last two decades to the point where we have over 5 million IoT devices reliant on our network. This figure is expected to grow exponentially, so it is very important that our network is able to cater for the volume of connections and traffic that the IoT will generate. Only modern 4G and 5G technologies are built to cater for this massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC) scale. To ensure that we continue to offer the best coverage, most reliable network and capacity to scale with a rapidly growing market, network modernisation is critical.
If your business has still not implemented a plan to migrate your fleet of 3G-only devices to a new technology, you will need to plan now as failure to fully migrate can cause disruptions in your mission-critical functions, which could ultimately affect your operations, customer experience, and reputation. The rest of this article will provide some practical steps on how to do this.
Whether your business designs and manufactures IoT devices or you purchase a finished product for use in your application, you will have some fundamental questions:
1. What technology should I choose as a replacement to 3G?
There are many factors in choosing the right replacement to 3G. The three broad options available are Narrowband IoT, LTE-M and LTE.
Broadly, the types of applications by technology can include:
- NB-IoT: Battery powered applications; low data requirements such as metering and agriculture; applications where total cost of the solution is a requirement; deployment in hard-to-reach areas like sub-surface or basements.
- LTE-M: Low power consumption is a requirement; devices move around the network like asset trackers; low latency; SMS is requirements.
- LTE: Applications that are “always-on” and use large amounts of data and speed is a factor; application requires seamless roaming; voice is a requirement.
Replacing hardware is costly and unlike mobile phones, IoT devices need to have much longer lifespans, so choosing a radio technology, be it cellular or unlicenced band, is important. Both NB-IoT and LTE-M are 5G technologies and we have committed to support these technologies on our mobile network. Unlike dedicated IoT networks based on proprietary technologies, both 4G and 5G networks are used by a large cross-section of consumer and enterprise voice and data and will considerably improve your Internet of Things (IoT) applications with more advanced services which can not only enhance business operations but can enable you to better serve your customers.
2. What modules or devices are certified by Telstra?
Telstra works with the major IoT module manufacturers and many IoT device manufacturers to certify their devices for optimal use on our network. We recommend that if you are embarking on a re-design process, to review the certified modules on our webpage.
3. How does the global semiconductor shortage affect my business?
Semiconductors, whether they be microcontrollers, memory or power management components, are key building blocks for IoT devices and the radio modules that are built into the devices. There is currently a global shortage of semiconductors resulting in very long lead-times on the above-mentioned components. This is certainly not a new phenomenon in the semiconductor industry, which is heavily impacted by supply and demand factors. COVID-19 was the trigger for reduced demand and the semiconductor industry consequently reduced capacity. The demand slowdown was shorter than expected and as a result demand now outstrips supply as it will take time for the semiconductor suppliers to scale their manufacturing output back up to meet this demand.
What this means in the short-term is that IoT modules and devices from many manufacturers are now taking longer to deliver when ordered with average delivery times up around 22 weeks from order. This is not the case across the board, but it is a factor that needs to be considered when assessing how much time you have available to complete your migration.
4. What factors should I consider when determining whether I will have enough time to meet the shutdown deadline?
If you design and manufacture your own devices, you will need to factor in at the least the following:
- Technology selection and identification of critical components with the best availability
- Engineering R&D re-design effort
- Field trials, testing and approvals
- Component lead times
- Time to physically replace devices in the field. If you have a capacity to replace 30 devices a day and have 15,000 devices in the field – it will take 500 business days (approximately 2 years) to complete!
If you buy a finished IoT device product from a manufacturer, it is imperative that you understand how long it will take for your orders to be delivered and then physically installed in the field.
In summary, 3G shutdown is fast approaching and it is important for your business to understand this impact and to have a plan and roadmap in place to ensure that you and your customers are not impacted.