2G and 3G switch offs. What’s the future of comms protocols for the water industry?

Date: 11/03/20 | In: Blog

Sales director for Detectronic, Neil Butler, explores the imminent 2G/3G sunset and explores the question: ‘what’s the future of comms protocols for the water industry?’

Over the next few years, 2G and 3G networks will be shut down across the globe. Referred to as the 2G/3G sunset, many operators have already switched off one of both of these networks. So, it’s vital that water companies and those active in the water industry start to consider alternatives that will support all required communications and applications.

What is 2G and 3G?

2G is short for second generation cellular network that was commercially launched on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard in Finland in 1991*. 3G is short for third generation cellular network. Both find application in wireless technology including wireless voice telephony, mobile Internet access, fixed wireless Internet access, video calls and mobile TV with the main difference between the two being data transfer speed.

What is the 2G/3G sunset?

A sunset refers to the point when a technology provider or operator terminates and phases out a product or service meaning it is no longer available or supported. Sunsetting has been happening for many years and is the natural progression for any technology as newer, better, quicker, more efficient devices and services are brought to market**. For example, analogue-based 1G launched in Japan in 1979 and rolled out throughout the world in the 80s. It was gradually phased out in the 90s after being left obsolete by 2G.

2G and 3G have been in the process of sunsetting for several years to make way for the expansion of 4G and deployment of 5G.

How will the 2G/3G sunset affect the global water industry?

Here in the UK, 3G will actually be switched off before 2G. The reason for this is that the current 2G infrastructure supports the pager network in hospitals.

Over in Canada, where we are working with our in-country partners Smart City Water, 2G will disappear at the end of 2020. In preparation, our R&D teams have been focusing on adapting and developing our existing monitor technology to ensure all of our equipment continues to function after the 2G/3G sunset, up to the year 2025.

In terms of the global water industry, you’d be forgiven for thinking that 5G would represent a positive step forward since it offers fast data download and upload speed and capacity – it can facilitate the streaming of 10 different TV programmes all at once, for example.

This is a real advancement for communications in general, but it does come at a price. 5G is incredibly power hungry and that’s not ideal in an industry where small battery powered monitors are ubiquitous across wastewater networks. As such, we believe that the future of communications lies in lower power communications networks.

What is a low power communications network?

Referred to as low power wide area networks (LPWANs), a low power communications network is type of wireless telecommunication wide area network designed to allow long-range communications at a low bit rate among things (connected objects), such as sensors that are found in monitoring equipment and operate on a battery.

There are currently two LPWANs in early stage testing here in the UK:

  • NB-IoT** (Narrowband Internet of Things) is a low power wide area network (LPWAN) efficient communication, long battery life for mass distributed devices and lower costs for wide geographical footprints. NB-IoT has been adopted by Vodafone and covers the West of the UK.
  • LTE-M1*** (Long Term Evolution – Machine Cat 1) is another LPWAN technology designed to support IoT through lower device complexity and provide extended coverage with battery lifetime of up to 10 years or more. LTE-M1 has been adopted by O2 and covers the East of the UK.

Both LPWANs are supported by all major mobile equipment, chipset and module manufacturers and will co-exist with 2G, 3G and 4G mobile networks. In anticipation of the eventual adoption of one of these technologies, we have already developed a new version of our MSFM monitor that is compatible with both NB-IoT and LTE-M1.

Whilst 4G and 5G will play a role in communications protocols for the water industry, either NB-IoT and LTE-M1 represent the future for device and machine-to-machine communications. Forward planning is key and every water company should now be considering its connectivity needs and operational challenges in light of the 2G/3G sunset.

When it comes to existing and future monitoring projects, we are more than happy to discuss individual requirements and continue deliver bespoke solutions that exceed expectations. Feel free to give any of the Detectronic team a call at any point for advice and guidance or to arrange a site meeting.


*What is 2G? Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2G

** Wireless Logic IoT Guides – preparing for the sunset of 2G &3G Q1 2020

***Narrowband-IoT Specialised Narrowband-IoT services from Vodafone https://www.vodafone.com/business/iot/managed-iot-connectivity/nb-iot

****LTE-M1 O2 grows IoT offering with a national LTE-M rollout for business https://news.o2.co.uk/press-release/o2-grows-iot-offering-with-national-lte-m-rollout-for-business/