2013
07.17

3G: Stuck in the Middle with You

Is there still a place in M2M for the 3G network? On the surface that might sound like an odd question to ask, given all the talk of 2G sunsets and the not-quite-ready for M2M primetime LTE. But I’ve long thought 3G to be sort of stuck in the middle of the network debate, which has me wondering where its future may be for connecting machines to machines.

Think about it; you have advocates on both ends of the debate pulling for the legitimacy of 4G and the relevancy of 2G. Then you just sort of have 3G there in the middle of it all—with its satisfactory download and upload performance, but with a bit of an uncertain future.

This week I’ve been digging into a whitepaper called ‘2G, 3G, 4G … OMG! What G is Right for M2M?’ from Aeris Communications. At first I thought it to be just another good primer for those looking to understand the relevancy of the networks for M2M. But as I dig in deeper I have come away with my own conclusion: It’s simply a 2G vs. 4G debate in M2M.

Here is what the whitepaper has brought to light for me (feel free to let me know your thoughts)

-3G HSPA coverage has not grown significantly in the past few years. Operators are instead allocating capital and efforts to expansions of 4G LTE networks

-On the other hand, 3G CDMA EV-DO coverage remains solid. But this might not be the case going forward as the 4G LTE expansions continue

-That being said, those looking into M2M have one of two options: 2G CDMA (which look to be around for years as opposed to 2G GSM) or 4G LTE. Here is my case for both:

2G CDMA

-The 1xRTT data transport network should remain viable going forward. And, as outlined in the whitepaper, the cost of this is less than migrating from 2G GSM/GPRS to 3G UMTS/HSPA.

-From that I draw a conclusion that converting to 2G CDMA for M2M applications might be a solid option

-Despite all the talk of 2G sunsets, it seems as though operators that have deployed CDMA have also put in place efforts to make the service available for many years to come. So that blanket talk of a 2G sunset might be a bit overblown

-3G module prices tend to be higher than 2G CDMA, which factors into your decision

4G LTE

-To me, this is still not yet ready for primetime in M2M

-That being said, 4G is still offering you the highest data rates for the foreseeable future

-If indeed the network operators are allocating the bulk of their resources to these networks, it might be your best bet for ensuring your M2M application is future proof

-But proceed with caution as coverage in major cities remains inconsistent

-The frequency bands related to LTE matter. With some operators deploying at 700MHz and others at 1.9GHz, among many others, the decision with regards to the LTE radio matters more than ever

So where does this leave 3G in this discussion? To that I am not too certain. Don’t get me wrong, I am not down on 3G. But I simply see it as a technology that is stuck in the middle of the priority list for the M2M community. So I guess the question about what ‘G’ is right for M2M comes down to how long you are willing to stick it out and what your near-term and long-term priorities are.

I want to hear what you think. Give the whitepaper a read and let’s open the dialogue.

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