In the hectic, day-to-day routine of your busy life, a deadline some three years in the future might seem like light years away. So worrying about the fact that, come New Year’s Day in 2017, 2G (GPRS) service from wireless carrier AT&T will not be available for alarm communications, may not be the most immediate priority for you today — as more near-term issues seem to always take precedence.
So how concerned should you really be? If you have not started to think about your alarm system conversion strategy from 2G, the time to start is now. With the actual date seemingly far in the future, it is easy to have a false sense of security; however, the impacts of the pending sunset are becoming more apparent with each passing day.
The End of 2G and its Impact
AT&T is by far the largest U.S. carrier relied on by alarm system communicators for central station communications. The company reported in mid 2012 that it would completely discontinue service on its 2G (GSM/GPRS/EDGE) network by the end of 2016. Though the announcement gave a definitive end to 2G service, many unanswered questions still remain in terms of how and when the carrier will actually execute their plans. With reprovisioning of the spectrum away from 2G already under way, some 2G products in the field today are already experiencing connectivity issues, and many areas are seeing reduced capacity on the 2G network.
By the end of last year, carriers in some areas had already eliminated 2G coverage on their 850 or 1900 MHz bands, which can negatively impact in-building, fixed-location cellular devices such as alarm communicators. Reduced capacity on these same bands could also result in delays connecting to the network based on the number of users already connected. Carriers have also issued service discontinuation notices of the 1900 MHz band from 2G (and 3G/4G) in New York City.
Some municipalities have already anecdotally reported that 2G service has all but disappeared, thanks to ongoing reallocations of available spectrum from 2G to the newer technologies, such as 3G/4G and 4G LTE.
The reality of the situation is that a majority of the more than four to five million devices already installed in the field are going to need to be upgraded between now and the moment that the 2G network is taken down.
Regardless of how many 2G devices you use for alarm communications —– do not be fooled into thinking that the time to begin upgrading is still some years in the future.
Considerations for Conversions
Since the beginning of the sunset discussion, the alarm industry has debated on which technology to move forward with. For devices that will continue to use AT&T, 3G (HSPA) and 4G (HSPA) technology are the most prevalent from a geographic scale. These also have the ability to ‘fall back’ to the existing 2G network in the event of 3G/4G maintenance or unscheduled outage to leverage 2G through its end-of-life. Neither of these should be confused with newer 4G LTE technology, which is being heavily marketed in most major markets as the answer to U.S. consumers’ insatiable appetites for network speed and availability. While customers will see improvements due to the increased throughput for devices where larger amounts of data are used (i.e. uploading/downloading over cellular) the speed is not critical — most data transmissions are smaller in size than a basic email. Most important to the debate is the expected life cycle, and the North American carriers themselves project that 3G/4G (HSPA/HSPA+) technology will share a common lifespan as the carrier’s high volume users will continue to migrate the 4G LTE network as it expands across the country.
Several manufacturers are offering devices that use CDMA technology, which is, in essence, a switch from 2G GPRS technology to 2G CDMA or 1xRTT, which is expected to offer a lifecycle similar to 3G/4G offerings.