As 5G becomes more and more present and 6G enters the development stage, the end of 2G and 3G seems imminent. This will have a significant impact on IoT devices that use those technologies, which currently are about 50% of all IoT devices connected via cellular. In the U.S. most carriers plan to shut down their 3G networks by early 2022. 2G networks might outlast 3G due to the various IoT use cases, but operators are actively planning their takedown as well.
Since the very first iterations, cellular networks have always been in a constant state of evolution. Every few years a newer, faster, and higher bandwidth network has come by. As new networks become more widespread, providers start shutting down older ones. Therefore, decreasing their capabilities and quality of service over time. 2G wasn’t designed for the amounts of traffic generated by smartphones, this led to the development of 3G. As requirements grew once more 4G came along.
It gave organizations even more possibilities than previous networks, supporting new kinds of higher bandwidth IoT applications. Today, more than 125 million cellular IoT devices are deployed but more than half of those are running 2G and 3G networks. Most cellular IoT applications still use less than 1 MB of bandwidth per month, indicating low bandwidth applications are still the most common. Mobile network operators have tried addressing this with low-power LTE technologies, but market response has been underwhelming. Still, many businesses aren’t aware of the risk to their IoT infrastructure and will be faced with the need for quick and decisive action once 2G and 3G networks shut down. The main challenges organisations face when adopting a new technology are security, lack of experience and cost. Companies are afraid of quick and significant technology changes because of the potential security risks, and high migration costs.
Even with better technologies on the way, many IoT deployments have found cellular connectivity lacking for their needs compared to other network options. 5G has been hyped, with operators and system integrators eager to showcase use cases and feature them in new product offerings. However, enterprise adoption has been minimal to date for 5G in IoT initiatives. ABI Research estimates there are only 290 publicly disclosed private 5G network deployments globally. And even if several times that many deployments have yet to be announced, it would be a tiny share of the massive IoT market.
The sunsetting of 2G and 3G might give businesses an opportunity to upgrade to a more stable Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN), which is designed to support large-scale IoT deployments at a lower cost. LoRaWAN was designed with the stability to support exceptionally long deployments. Furthermore, LoRaWAN firmware upgrades can be handled over the air with minimal power consumption compared to cellular. LoRaWAN is experiencing a period of explosive growth, making it increasingly accessible for many organizations. And in contrast to 5G’s slow rate of adoption, LoRaWAN deployments are set to triple in the next three years. The increasing support for LoRaWAN will also mean an increased regional support and widespread global adoption.