New year, new urgency on AT&T's 2G sunset
One of the most newsworthy items for the alarm industry in 2012 was AT&T’s announcement that it will shut down 2G service by Jan. 1, 2017. Everyone knew the day was coming, but there had been a lot of speculation in the field about exactly when cellular equipment would need to be upgraded to stay ahead of the sunset.
With the uncertainty gone, the industry now faces the reality of swapping millions of devices that use AT&T’s GSM/GPRS network. Choices must be made that involve assessing the longevity, coverage and cost of competing technologies. The larger the company, the larger the stakes.
SSN covered developments on the 2G sunset throughout 2012, presenting opinions from industry experts and a few rebuttals about the best path for dealers to take. For those still unsure about which way to go, a summation of options is provided by Syed Zaeem Hosain, chief technical officer at Aeris Communications, in the latest issue of CSAA Dispatch. Here’s what he had to say:
Change service to T-Mobile. It may be possible to move service from AT&T to T-Mobile by swapping the SIM [card] inside devices. This requires a truck roll. Furthermore, T-Mobile will also remove 2G eventually. Thus, this option only delays the inevitable by about two years; however, it allows additional time for implementing other options. It could require two truck rolls: one to replace the SIM soon, and another to replace the 2G GSM device later.
Replace with 3G HSPA. Alarm device suppliers are making new 3G HSPA devices. However, the HSPA coverage is much smaller than GPRS and, in time, HSPA spectrum also will need to be swapped for LTE. Thus, there is likely to be an “HSPA sunset” starting in about seven to eight years. This sunset would be worse, since the number of deployed alarm units will be much higher.
Replace with 2G CDMA. Alarm device suppliers have not yet supported this option, though it is likely the best. CDMA carriers have committed to 10-plus years of service longevity, and the 1xRTT coverage is better than GSM. Given the lower cost of 1xRTT radios and the large number of deployed 1xRTT applications in other industries (notably automotive and trucking) supporting the technology, using 1xRTT for alarm units makes sense.
Replace with 4G LTE. Deploying LTE devices is not viable for the alarm industry today. Radio costs are very high, and coverage is simply not sufficient for national deployments. Both will improve in time, but not at a pace that makes it a viable replacement option today. Carriers have not yet worked out LTE roaming agreements—these also will take time. Most importantly, the spectrum fragmentation for LTE means that current-generation LTE radios are single band (dedicated for use on a single carrier when in LTE mode). This is too restrictive, since these units can never be moved from one carrier to another.
Whichever route is chosen, it should be noted that the four-year window is a best-case scenario. Frequency harvesting is expected to dilute AT&T’s 2G coverage well before the sunset, with constraints already being reported in some areas. While the best choice for dealers seems to vary depending on who—or which manufacturer—you talk to, one thing is clear: Procrastination is no longer an option.