How to Keep Vehicles and Fleets Connected After the End of 3G

Take Inventory of your GPS and Tracking Devices Evaluate your Existing Telematics Provider Embrace the Value of 4G Technology Developing a Business Plan for a 4G Future Involve all Stakeholders Learning from the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) Mandate Looking ahead to a 5G Future and 5G Alternatives

  • In this eBook, we’ll show you how to get ready by:

    • Taking inventory of your devices.
    • Evaluating your telematics provider.
    • Learning more about the value of 4G technology.
    • Looking forward to 5G and beyond.
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 Wireless carriers have already begun phasing out the 3G and 2G cellular networks that many fleets, especially trucking companies, continue to use.  These legacy cellular networks have provided fleets with a way to keep data transmission costs in check because the service plans for these devices tend to remain at lower price levels. 

The pace of change has disrupted this cost-control approach because wireless carriers are phasing out these older networks so they can reuse the bandwidth for their next-generation infrastructure. The carriers are hoping to spark a wave of sales of replacement devices. Find out more about telematics and IoT or 5G in fleet management

 There are an estimated 7.5 million IoT devices running on these networks, according to Transport Topics. The GSM and CDMA 3G networks were rolled out in 2002. But now, Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T are reclaiming spectrum, which will be used as they build out 5G networks that are now in their infancy. The carriers have already stopped activating new 3G devices. 

Verizon will be the first carrier to phase out its 3G network at the end of 2020. The carrier had previously planned the sunset for the end of 2019 and postponed it. Verizon will also shutter its 2G network by Dec. 31. The company includes this note on a service page: “Currently, 3G / 4G non-HD Voice CDMA devices can’t be activated for any new line of service.”

T-Mobile is also aiming to eliminate its U.S. 3G network by the end of 2020. The company is also expected to begin shutting down its 2G network in early 2021. All programmable wireless SIMs from T-Mobile were no longer able to access the network on Aug. 4, 2020. T-Mobile is shutting down the Sprint 3G network in December of 2022. 

AT&T, which shut down its 2G network in 2017, plans to sunset its 3G network in February of 2022, the carrier announced in March in a support article. To help fleet managers deal with this technical challenge, let’s go over several steps that will ease the transition, which will require fleets to swap out legacy telematics hardware and manage the associated costs of the upgrade and vehicles that need to be taken out of service.

Take inventory of your devices
Don’t panic.

Not surprisingly, the size of your fleet will drive your replacement plan. And you’ll need to take action to avoid losing devices, which will cease pinging when the 3G infrastructure goes dark. You’ll need to develop a game plan fairly quickly, but it’s do-able. 

Larger fleets are monitoring tens of thousands of telematics devices, so taking inventory of the hardware will be the first step. If you manage vehicles in countries outside of the U.S., you’ll need to do some additional research about the 3G shutdowns in other countries. For an update about the plans of Canadian and European carriers, click here. 

De-centralized fleets such as DowDuPont, the American Red Cross, Coca-Cola, and others have vehicles spread around the U.S. being managed by regional divisions. These kinds of fleets will need to connect the dots. 

Smaller fleets are expected to bear the brunt of the transition, especially in rural areas, where network infrastructure is replaced more slowly, and coverage lapses are more common. Of the 30 million commercial vehicles in the U.S., about 15 million now use telematics, and many of these are in service in a fleet with less than 25 vehicles.

Evaluate your telematics provider 

A wide-ranging device replacement strategy starts with taking a closer look at your telematics service provider (TSP). Have they been responsive to your needs and can you rely on them to help you manage the process? 

TIP

Because the wireless carriers aren’t offering device subsidies, be sure to ask if your TSP is providing any resources.

1

Technology Updates

Does your TSP provide updates to its product lineup that reduce outages and keep you in compliance? 

2

Customer Support

Can you schedule time with a company advisor, who is responsive to your questions and concerns? 

3

Data Management

Does your TSP help you manage the firehose of data from fleet vehicles with customized reporting and data visualizations? 

4

Competitive Pricing

Is the cost of your current solution in-line with other comparable solutions in the marketplace? 

Once you select your provider, schedule a meeting. You’ll need to develop an accurate timeline for when the units will be obsolete. You’ll also need to familiarize yourself with the product lineup, so you can plan a cadence for device replacement. Will you use this opportunity to add video telematics or electronic logging devices? Now is the time to know the TSP’s offerings. 

Because the wireless carriers aren’t offering device subsidies, be sure to ask if your TSP is providing any resources, such as trade-in credits, friendly renewal terms, or hardware included in a new contract. 

Embrace the value of 4G technology 

Newer devices bring an array of benefits to fleet management with new features around data transmission, processing, location accuracy, driver alerts, and maintenance. 

The 4G devices transmit as much as five times as much data per packet over a 3G transmitter, which gives more immediate information about a vehicle’s location. Faster processing allows 4G devices to consumer more GPS data inputs. Enhanced antenna design and upgraded chipsets enable more accurate location information. 

For managing driver behavior events, the devices usually have updated accelerometer profiles. And with updated codes for a vehicle’s ECM (electronic control module), new devices can identify and report maintenance issues more rapidly to help with vehicle diagnostics. 

TIP

Drivers will need to know when their vehicles will be taken out of service to swap out hardwired devices, so they can make other plans to continue their work. 

Develop a plan 

Replacing legacy devices requires two considerations – securing funding and managing the replacement schedule. This will help you reduce service disruptions. 

Setting aside funding to replace devices requires advanced planning, and smaller fleets may not have the same resources available to fleet managers in larger companies and agencies. For commercial fleets, the funding may be secured more quickly. TSPs may be able to help with financing terms. 

Government agencies usually move slower, because they may need approval from elected leaders as well as a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. However, agencies with cooperative procurement agreements via Sourcewell (formerly NJPA), Omnia, Naspo, and others may be able to move more quickly. 

Once you’ve secured funding to replace the devices and identified vehicles with 2G or 3G hardware, you’ll need to develop a schedule to manage vehicles that will be taken out of service. Of course, you’ll also need to work with your TSP to find an installer. 

Managing the replacements could be even more challenging as a result of the changes to the workforce brought on by Covid-19. 

Vehicles that were once garaged in central locations may now be operating remotely as many workers continue to use their homes as a base of operations. 

Involve all stakeholders 

A fleet-wide device replacement plan that doesn’t involve senior executives, drivers, senior executives, maintenance technicians, and potentially the insurance carrier may not go smoothly. 

Senior executives will need to sign off on the plan to ensure funding and coordination with legal stakeholders who may require new disclosures. 

Drivers will need to know when their vehicles will be taken out of service to swap out hardwired devices, so they can make other plans to continue their work. 

Maintenance technicians will need to develop the timetable for when and how fleet vehicles will undergo the replacement of devices to avoid widespread productivity dips for workers without vehicles. The company may need to consider a truck rental program, and government agencies may rely more heavily on their motor pools. 

Learn from the ELD mandate 

Trucking fleets may be most impacted by the 3G phaseout, because they have been focusing more on meeting a 2017 federal mandate that required electronic logging devices. However, these fleets may also be best positioned to deal with the issue, because they have the experience of recently completing the ELD technology upgrade. 

An ELD helps fleets manage the hours drivers spend behind the wheel by tracking the time electronically rather than via paper forms and records. 

When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) began requiring ELDs in 2017, fleets with heavier duty (Class 4 and above) trucks began swapping out legacy 3G hardware. Other trucking fleets using automatic on-board recording devices were given an extension in 2017 to December of 2019. Over the past several years, those fleets also made the switch. 

These twin deadlines were seen as an opportunity for trucking fleets to take advantage of new services offered by telematics service providers. Cross-border fleets that operate in Canada must implement ELDs by June 12, 2021. This upcoming deadline represents another opportunity for fleets to switch out 2G and 3G devices. 

TIP

Drivers will need to know when their vehicles will be taken out of service to swap out hardwired devices, so they can make other plans to continue their work. 

Look ahead (to 5G?) 

Don’t panic. 

Verizon has begun aggressively marketing its 5G rollout with an advertisement featuring comedian Chris Rock strolling around a fantasy mansion showing off the capabilities of the technology 

(“5G just got real”), but commercial fleet applications of 5G networks are still potentially a decade away. 

5G networks, which are about 20 times faster than 4G, presents many cost and infrastructure challenges. The devices are much pricier, and the infrastructure is still in its infancy. To support 5G, carriers need a hardware node every quarter of a mile. Narrowband networks such as LTE-M and NB-IoT may provide a lower-cost alternative for less data intensive IoT devices. 

Devices that operate on LTE-M can transfer 50kb/s to 1Mb/s of data. These devices, which typically use Bluetooth Low Energy to collect data from an array of sensors on a truck, have batteries that last between three to five years. The devices use modems enabled by 4G CAT M chipsets to support lower-speed data transfer. 

These asset trackers are typically used in trailer monitoring to capture temperature readings for cold-chain logistics, tire pressure sensors, or rear door open/close events. Data plans are much less expensive than for 4G LTE devices. 

The end of legacy 2G and 3G networks should provide an optimal opportunity for fleet managers to upgrade their tracking technology rather than a panic-zone moment that halts progress. 

Using the resources available, including connection points at telematics service providers, should help commercial and government fleets navigate the at-times choppy water of technological innovation in a smooth way. 

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