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December 27, 2021 10:45 AM, EST

Perspective: Time to Prepare for the 3G Sunset

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Multiple factors coming together can be a perfect storm, and the imminent 3G cellular network shutdown in 2022 certainly qualifies. The sunsetting of 3G technology is coming up quickly. The phaseout, which is designed to free up spectrum for faster 4G LTE and 5G wireless devices, will affect millions of commercial transportation and logistics devices, including asset-tracking devices, electronic logging devices, advanced driver assistance systems and material handling telematics devices.

Once 3G networks are discontinued, legacy devices will be unable to connect to the network. This could create disruptions ranging from an inability to comply with federal hours-of-service regulations, to a lack of awareness of safety violations, failure to monitor fleet health, communication disruptions with employees and more.

Many businesses in the commercial transportation segment still operate 3G cellular devices, and time is running out to migrate to devices with 4G LTE. The longer companies wait to upgrade, the greater the risk they will suffer massive operational disruptions.

Powell

Powell

Shutdown dates are set and are unlikely to be postponed. AT&T plans to discontinue its 3G network on Feb. 22. T-Mobile plans to discontinue its 3G network on July 1, its Sprint 3G network on March 31 and its Sprint LTE network on June 30. Verizon plans to discontinue its 3G network in December 2022.

Critical Steps

There are several actions companies in the transportation segment need to take. First, they should take an inventory of their cellular devices to determine if they need to upgrade. If they do, they can discuss options with their current technology providers. Many fleets are using this as an opportunity to consider alternative technology providers. For those electing to make such a move, many other integration and back-office factors come into play, including IT-infrastructure support, billing/invoicing and internal safety standards, which they should discuss with providers.

Once a purchasing decision is made, establish a timeline for migration. 4G device hardware availability is the gating factor in determining if the project can be completed before the applicable 3G network shutdown dates, so time is of the essence in completing these initial steps.

The migration itself is not a simple device swap. It is a significant project with potentially severe implications if not given proper consideration, such as unexpected costs due to a poorly planned deployment or having to retouch your entire fleet because the new devices aren’t programmed correctly. Therefore, a trained and experienced project management team should be engaged to develop and execute the plan. A comprehensive project plan will entail dozens of steps, and the highest of priorities should be placed on the following:

  • Who is on the team? Will it be handled with in-house resources, third-party suppliers or a combination?
  • For hardware supply chain logistics, who will ship what, where and when?
  • Who will perform device kitting, staging and activation services?
  • How will rolling assets (tractors, trailers, forklifts, etc.) be routed in and scheduled for the required service?
  • What will be the cadence for communication of the project details and expectations to all impacted employees?
  • Who will perform the physical removal of the 3G devices and installation of the 4G devices?
  • How will data be tracked to ensure the proper, real-time association between new 4G devices and the specific asset in which each is installed?
  • What is the plan for the disposal of the legacy 3G devices?
  • Now that new 4G devices are in operation, what is the plan for ongoing monitoring and repair of these devices?
  • What could go wrong and what are the necessary contingency plans?

Making the right technology decisions and ensuring technology performs as expected requires a turnkey approach and expertise in many areas. This includes identifying the ideal hardware and software, overseeing complex project management, and quickly deploying skilled technicians who can install, repair and replace technology with minimal business disruption. The transition from 3G to 4G may seem daunting, but it is manageable with the right team and plan in place.

Deryk Powell is the president and chief operating officer of Velociti, an industry-leading technology solutions provider that helps truckload, less-than-truckload, warehouse and distribution, private, service and public sectors create their connected supply chain.

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