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Enterprises face a fast-expanding array of 5G private network offerings as AWS, Cisco, HPE, and others have joined the fray since December.

What a difference three months has made. While momentum is building fast for private 5G network services for enterprise use, it is unclear if organizations fully understand the technologies involved and their value. In fact, IT managers are still learning how the offerings can help their operations and get them up and running.

Concurrently, the carrier and vendor ecosystem is faced with finding ways to monetize their private 5G networks offerings.

But this does not mean a doom and gloom forecast for one of the hottest and most dynamic sectors in networking. It is quite the opposite.

This nascent industry segment is expanding rapidly, with the entrance of tech giants to the provider roster in the last several months, a continuous infusion of funding, and enterprises trialing 5G networks as a step that can lead to commercial implementations.

Targeting wired Ethernet, Wi-Fi

Private 5G service providers are targeting enterprises that currently use wired Ethernet LANs (hard to install and manage) and Wi-Fi (which presents coverage issues) in their corporate networks. Using a private 5G network service can solve these challenges while providing ultra-low latency.

What do enterprise IT managers need to know about escalating activity in the burgeoning sector to evaluate a widening array of offerings and opportunities?

The entry of network computing giants in recent months should have IT managers reviewing private 5G network offerings for such use cases as shipping and delivery fleets, tablets in factories and warehouses, and robotic manufacturing, said AWS Adam CEO Selipsky at an annual company event late last year. “All these new use cases require consistent, reliable connectivity.”

Private 5G draws a big crowd

Until recently, the private 5G market has included few telecommunications system behemoths along with lesser-known innovators that are battling to get the attention of enterprise customers.

But starting last December, tech giants joined the fray, expanding the menu of private 5G network providers and more choices for IT managers.

Early entrants: Verizon and Betacom

Since then (in last few months): Amazon Web Services, Cisco Systems, and HPE.).

At Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, AT&T outlined an effort with Microsoft to develop a service called Private AT&T Edge that includes the ability to roam beyond the geographical boundaries of the AT&T private network and still stay connected through the AT&T public network.

Pre-integrated solutions

Availability of pre-integrated solutions portends to simplify private 5G networks for enterprises. Qualcomm’s partner program aims at that goal. The tech giant is working with Microsoft to offer such an offering in the third quarter of this year. This and others will be available through select operators and integrators.

Now targeting SMBs

Also at the show, Verizon announced a turnkey solution that partner Celona will bring to market. This solution is for small- and medium-sized enterprises “looking for fast time-to-value,” according to the carrier.

The offering from Celona is designed to expand the target market of customers. It will be usable with CBRS spectrum, according to the vendor.

Investing in 5G: follow the money

In an emerging market, tracking investments in non-household names can give IT managers a better understanding of the infrastructure that can provide broader networking opportunities. In this case, Federated Wireless last month secured $58 million in Series D funding. This brings Federated’s total funding raised to $210 million. Federated was founded last year.

Adding CBRS spectrum inventory

What is Federated? It makes spectrum access systems (SAS) that allow companies to use shared spectrum in the 3.5Ghz band for 5G networks without interference issues.

This spectrum administration offering became crucial as the FCC auctions spectrum in the Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) to all comers, with buyers including Deere Co., utilities, rural telcos, and large universities. The auction ended in August 2020 and generated over $4.5 billion. CBRS expanded 5G private network opportunities to provide additional inventory for enterprises, carriers, and other organizations.

From trials to implementations – and traction?

Since trials precede implementations, enterprise IT managers can learn from the experiences of others, especially with a new or emerging technology. Here is a case in point: Longtime wireless network builder for carriers for Betacom Inc. launched a fully managed private 5G network service in late May. The company handles network design, deployment, and management for the offering. Betacom explains enterprise customers retain ownership of the network and local control of their data. Management is provided from its NOC, which is hosted on Microsoft Azure.

Just last month, Betacom announced a service trial with the Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Airport, explaining that it is “trialing a private 5G network for increased baggage handling accuracy and efficiency. Betacom claims is 5G-as-a-service allows DFW to “securely run their mission-critical applications without interference and helps to speed up baggage handling and reduce lost baggage costs.”

Verizon, which launched its private 5G service last June, revealed during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that it has landed its first commercial customer, the new headquarters of BlackRock in New York City. The carrier says the effort brings 5G Ultra Wideband connectivity to areas of BlackRock’s new Hudson Yards facility where high speed and low latency will be required in its trading floor, conference center, auditorium, and meeting rooms.

The road ahead

With carriers, equipment vendors, and integrators rolling out private 5G network offerings at a rapid pace, enterprise IT interested in this technology will find themselves awash in offerings to compare in 2022 and far beyond.

This, of course, is as providers settle on monetization strategies necessary for enterprises to determine the value of implementing 5G technology in their business operations.

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Soaring video traffic, WFH, and security service acquisitions drive content delivery sector expansion as core functions enrich the network edge.

Content Delivery Networks (CDN) have come a long way since the creation of the service provider category at the turn of the century during the wild west days of e-commerce websites and video delivery.

Witness the rapid expansion of the CDN market in the last few years, which saw cloud computing giants such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon join pioneers such as Akamai Technologies, Limelight Networks, and Mirror Image. Some early players were acquired by telcos. Fastly and Cloudflare are more recent entrants.

What is a CDN?

A CDN is basically a global collection of servers that speed delivery of web content by bringing it closer to users. Data centers use caching, a process that temporarily stores copies of files so that users can access Internet content from a web device or browser more quickly through a server near you. Cached content includes web pages, images, and video in proxy servers nearest users. The far shorter routes from origin to destination also save bandwidth, boosting performance and cutting costs.

Global video volume climbs

The sheer volume of video as a percent of total global network traffic is continuing to soar, with Cisco’s video forecast claiming that IP video would be 82% of all IP traffic in 2021, up from 73% in 2016. Globally, Ultra HD will be 20.7% of IP Video traffic in 2021, up from 1.8% in 2016.

CDN providers are now more in demand than ever. The unmatched surge in popularity of streaming services, social networks, and online gaming (in no small part thanks to the global pandemic) has significantly increased the load on data centers.

CDN uses flourish

Today, Content Delivery Network (CDN) operators are chasing business in security services, mobile apps, gaming software delivery, and firmware updates as part of a fast-growing list of use cases -all while supporting the burgeoning streaming video TV services. And don’t forget helping handle the quick switch to mass working from home daily.

Trending; the top 5

So, what emerging and advancing trends should IT managers track with cloud CDN providers in 2022?

1) Fast-growing CDN roster, and possible consolidation?

Not long ago, the lineup featured pioneer Akamai, with rivals Limelight Networks, Level 3 Communications, Edgecast Networks, Mirror Image, CDNetworks, and more. But telcos snapped up and assimilated some of these players to offer CDN functionality to their customers.

But instead of the sector lineup shrinking, Cloud computing giants Google, Amazon, and Microsoft launched robust CDN offerings to businesses of all sizes, all built on their global computing and distribution networks. Fastly and Cloudflare also joined in with innovative services. Bottom line: The more, the merrier.

2) Expanding security focus

Early CDNs were designed to help enterprise customers’ website operations withstand heavy, often unanticipated, traffic volume and DDoS attacks by distributing requests for content across their sprawling networks. This continues today, but we’ve seen CDN operators such as Akamai offer add-on security services for their customers -spending $1.5 billion in the last year- an emerging trend for IT managers to keep a watchful eye on.

  • Last month, Akamai announced plans to buy Linode, a provider of core cloud services for developers, for $900 million. Linode’s services include compute, block and object storage, managed database, load balancers, and a managed Kubernetes offering that supports running containerized applications.
  • Last September, the CDN operator announced plans to buy Guardicore, a maker of micro-segmentation solutions, for $600 million. By adding its solution into Akamai’s Zero Trust security lineup, the operator claimed it would be uniquely suited to supply comprehensive protections to the enterprise, defending against threat actors and the spread of malware and ransomware.
  • Roughly a year ago, Akamai purchased Inverse to better identify IoT and mobile devices, including Internet-connected HVAC, lighting systems, robotics, medical gear, and printers in organizations.
  • In its Q4 2021 earnings call last month, Akamai CEO Tom Leighton said that security products continued their rapid growth, generating revenue of $365 million, up 23% year-over-year. “For the full year, security revenue reached $1.33 billion and grew 26% over 2020. Security represented 39% of our revenue last year, up from 33% in 2020.”

In the overall CDN sector, the security type menu has expanded far beyond DDoS attack protection to include:

  • Web Application Firewall
  • Bot Mitigation & Screen Scraping Protection
  • Data Security
  • DNS Protection

3) The edge fuels WFH

CDNs are becoming a top driver and use case for edge computing. How? Well, while the delivery of content from edge devices as close to customers as possible is largely the same approach providers used in moving content closer to end-user devices, and for the same reasons. Cloud CDN players are adding more functionality, such as processing power, to the increasingly intelligent network edge.

The architecture of CDNs is playing a leading role in supporting work-from-home implementations. After all, early CDNs were built on edge computing functionality long before the phrase edge computing was coined.

4) CDN or CDNs?

Enterprises looking to live stream video require far more functionality for their events, be the audience national or global. In fact, organizations in the live group have been known to use multiple CDNs (one as a primary and the other as a backup) if the primary suffers performance issues or outages.

Advanced software packages from firms such as Conviva enable a customer to switch back and forth in real time between CDNs to ensure the best view experience. This is also important if ISP capacity issues arise, and the content needs to be downshifted to a slower bandwidth to be delivered on time. Also, CDNs are stronger coverage-wise in some states (U.S.), regions, countries, and continents than in others.

5) Build vs. buy

There was a time when large companies considered and built their own CDN networks rather than relying on services from established providers. One such content streamer, Netflix, began to build a worldwide CDN, which the company claims has cost over $1 billion, to ensure the movie, series, and shows in its pioneering subscription video-on-demand streaming service are located as close as possible to its customers with the quickest loading times possible.

The Walt Disney Company, which launched its own subscription services internationally to compete with Netflix and a widening field of rivals, spent a few billion dollars in 2017 and 2018 to buy a majority stake (estimated at 85%) in BAMTech LLC.

Major League Baseball created the streaming tech company in 2015. That gave Disney the CDN and related assets needed to quickly launch ESPN streaming services and its Disney+ consumer streaming service in late 2019.

The bottom line

With the live-streamed Super Bowl and Winter Olympics in the rearview mirror and March Madness upon us, it’s easy to overlook the increasing CDN use by enterprises of all sizes outside the media and entertainment vertical.

The key takeaway in tracking CDN trends is the breadth of their use far beyond streaming video. Microsoft uses CDNs to cache static assets of its Office 365 software suite closer to the browsers requesting them to speed up downloads and reduce perceived end-user latency. Meanwhile, SMBs now use CDNs to support WFH applications. IT departments use CDNs to distribute product updates.

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Disaster recovery for the modern global enterprise: How to minimize the impact of cable cuts, criminal activity, and acts of God.

Planning for unexpected and unavoidable service interruptions on undersea cables, land-based networks or satellite systems is an essential undertaking for enterprise IT managers. Refreshing a backup plan need not be heavy lifting as expert guidance and a growing array of backup options are available to fortify the blueprint.

The undersea volcano which, which cut the sole Internet link to Tonga, a country of islands, last month should serve as a wakeup call for enterprise IT managers around the world to update their backup and disaster recovery plans for their network infrastructure and connected equipment.

Be it from a backhoe blunder, criminal activity or act of God, enterprises need a comprehensive B (backup) plan for locations large and small, nearby and around the world, to minimize lost productivity and business.

Map out your plan

If your carriers have not provided route maps and their backup plans for your services, press them for these assets so you can identify potential weaknesses in your plan. Just because you have carrier diversity, does not guarantee route diversity, as carriers frequently use the same conduit. If that conduit is knocked out, having multiple carriers may not matter.

Minimize fiber cut risk

“The best method to minimize any impact from fiber cuts is to either obtain a network service from a service provider that builds in a protection path by having two separate routes everywhere (in two separate conduits) or to implement one yourself by finding two service providers with different fiber routes,” explained Jimmy Yu, Vice President of the Optical Transport market at Dell’Oro Group, a research and analysis firm.

In both scenarios, if a conduit of fiber is cut, the network will re-route the company’s traffic through an alternate route, usually in a few minutes. This applies to both terrestrial and submarine networks.

This approach proved successful over a decade ago when an undersea earthquake near Japan, shook much of the country, including nuclear power plants, and cut numerous undersea fiber cables. But due to protection mechanisms in place, traffic was re-routed to the cables that were still functioning. By contrast, Tonga had a single point of failure with a single undersea connection to the Internet.

Explore multiple media options

Since fiber cuts are seen as inevitable, IT managers who have not already, need to consider wireless and satellite transmission options for use as in a backup role. If a site is within 100 km of a neighboring country, point to point microwave is a solid option, says Yu. Satellite connection can also limit losses, but both options operate at speeds far slower than are typically supported on optical transport systems.

Check new cables, new owners, and new routes

Because of the need to expand and protect cloud services connectivity and to make their data centers more resilient, Google, Microsoft and Facebook have collectively built nearly 20 of their own undersea cables, connection cities and country regions, often in new locations around the globe.

At last check, Google alone owned sixteen undersea cables. Microsoft and Facebook teamed on yet another. The good news is their services can reach new areas and provide backups to other routes they own. However, it is unlikely they will lease or sell capacity to enterprises or carriers.

Diverse cables to avoid disasters

Early on in undersea systems, the cables were owned and operated by telco consortiums, built to provide connectivity between international business hubs. Business opportunities and cable cuts helped grow the number of systems as was the case when Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey in October 2012, disrupting daily business for some time.

“It was a major disruption,” says Frank Rey, director of global network strategy for Microsoft’s Cloud Infrastructure and Operations division. “The entire network between North America and Europe was isolated for a number of hours. For us, the storm brought to light a potential challenge in the consolidation of transatlantic cables that all landed in New York and New Jersey.”

Look to the cloud for cable diversity

Disasters have a way of fueling progress in networking resiliency. The hurricane inspired Microsoft, Facebook, and contractor Telexius to build what, when completed in 2019, as the highest capacity subsea cable to cross the Atlantic Ocean. It connects Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Bilbao, Spain, offering a separate route from cables terminating in New Jersey.

The cable’s landing point in Spain landing provides a path to network hubs in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and its bandwidth will help meet the increasing demand for internet and cloud services.

Check SLAs

Enterprise IT managers need to review the SLAs on their carrier connections focusing on availability as well as for recovery. “There are certainly going to be locations where the local service provider just can’t provide the SLAs some enterprises require, especially when it comes to response and repair times,’’ cautioned Jeff Heynen, Vice President, Broadband Access and Home Networking at the Dell’Oro Group.

Reviewing SLAs of other providers, where available, to determine if a change is required, and if and where dedicated backup and equipment are needed. In those cases, satellite and fixed wireless are certainly viable options for redundancy.

Consider backup equipment spending

With often tight budgets and the price of seemingly everything climbing, buying equipment to sit idle may not seem like a top priority. Some may prefer a usage-based or on demand-centric B plan. Keeping an eye on the enterprise IoT routers and gateway market could prove prudent.

“A modest percentage of those devices are used in remote locations purely as backups to the primary fixed routers and gateways,” according to Heynen, “If there are any WAN connectivity issues, the enterprise can simply divert any traffic through the wireless gateway until the fixed connection is restored. You could definitely envision satellite providing another WAN connectivity option in that situation.”

The bottom line

Avoiding or minimizing loss of business from transmission network interruptions of any type is an essential undertaking. Periodically refreshing a B plan for network connectivity can benefit enterprises if IT managers consider new and emerging opportunities for a more flexible plan.

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Demand for broadband service in unserved and underserved areas remains high, but what of the wild card: supply?

The last two years saw unprecedented initiatives designed to pour $85 billion dollars into funding and financing for a historic broadband breakout to deliver high speed Internet to unserved and underserved areas across America.

But looking to 2022, enterprise IT managers and service providers will find that money cannot yet buy them repaired and enhanced supply chains needed to eliminate sweeping shortages of everything from chips to equipment necessary for network upgrades and expansions to serve previously unreachable locations.

Despite historic levels of investment in broadband to close the Digital Divide over the coming years, the telecom industry now finds itself seeking to avert a broadband slowdown. Instead of planning for bigger broadband business, equipment makers and carriers are planning for increasing delays in addressing the needs of enterprises.

What happens to network expansion?

As a result, it appears clear that companies will spend more time waiting than planning for corporate network expansion until further notice. Supporting work from home efforts will become heavy lifting.

“I believe the biggest challenge by far for enterprise IT managers is going to be supply chain issues limiting access to certain network infrastructure and CPE,” said Jeff Heynen, Vice President, Broadband Access, and Home Networking, for market research and analysis firm Dell’Oro Group. “Lead times for components continue to increase and we are seeing its impact in the shipments of things like DOCSIS CPE, certain PON ONTs, and home networking gear.”

And while the funding floodgates for broadband access are opening, enterprises and service providers will find moving forward on the ground and in the air far tougher than in pre-Covid times.

“I don’t see the shortages being resolved in the first half of the year, so plans have to be made for projects that are dependent on the acquisition of new equipment to take longer than expected,” Heynen said.

IT managers and carriers – especially rural service providers - can expect an extra-large serving of frustration in 2022, as shortages continue.

Industry executive expresses concern

Supply chain problems are top of mind for the NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association.

“Getting access to fiber, to [customer-premises equipment] equipment – it has been torturous,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the NTCA Rural Broadband Association said at a Fierce Telecom industry event in mid-December. “I have companies that are now being told it will be 100 weeks to get their fiber builds – [companies] are hoarding fiber like toilet paper at this point.”

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association represents nearly 850 independent, family-owned and community-based telecommunications companies, NTCA’s members build and deliver broadband connectivity and operate essential services in rural and small-town communities across the U.S.

A chorus of concerns

Telecom industry associations – including the NTCA – sent a letter to President Biden in early 2021, informing him of the serious challenges faced by the chip shortage and the need to address it. They included trade groups CTIA and USTelecom.

"The global semiconductor shortage, combined with residual impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, is significantly affecting the telecommunications supply chain and the broader ICT [information communication technology] supply chain,” USTelecom told the FCC. The group claimed its members “are seeing extended and uncertain lead times from suppliers, as well as shipping delays."

The group got into specifics, claiming that broadband providers have had to make purchase orders up to 15 months in advance, instead of the typical 1-3 months. The group added that vendors are requiring purchase orders be placed 6 months in advance and are expected to increase that timeframe to a year.

Planning accordingly

Shortages caused by slowed or broken supply chains come at a tough time for IT and business managers who are struggling to address the changing face of the corporate workforce.

Firms looking to support work from home full time, or as a hybrid solution are largely on hold, though the appeal of both options has grown during Covid-caused lockdowns and quarantines, and from remote education and telehealth/virtual medicine.

Supply chain relevance to broadband plans

After decades of relative inaction, the broadband breakout began in earnest in 2021, with the awarding of grants through the FCC’s $20 billion Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and the Infrastructure Investment Act in the closing months of the year.

However, before enterprise IT managers – anywhere, in any industry – make plans for new infrastructure, they need to consider a new variable: product availability.

Enterprises will have to plan for delays in components needed for the broadband options to become available. The high-speed media network contenders remain the same with fiber (G-PON), fixed wireless access, and DOCSIS cable, joined by low-Earth satellite-delivered access emerging as bird launches increase in frequency, led by Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink service.

So, without underserved and unserved regions using affordable broadband access options, it is anyone’s guess when the Digital Divide will finally be closed.

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The DOT, wireless carriers, the FAA, the aviation industry, and Biden Administration are all now involved in resolving a complex situation that airline CEOs claim could worsen air travel operations chaos beyond continuing Covid cancellations level.

What started in December as a request for information from the Department of Transportation (DOT), on possible safety issues with 5G rollouts near U.S. airports, has since escalated. Airline owners are now warning of further air travel chaos, and foreign carriers have begun canceling flights to the U.S. The situation has since drawn the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), aviators, airplane equipment manufacturers, airline CEOs, and the Biden administration into the fray.

Airline outcry

Earlier this week, CEOs of U.S. airlines wrote a letter (first published by Reuters) to officials at the FCC, FAA, DOT, and White House National Economic Council, expressing concerns over 5G interference with airline equipment. They requested that 5G be implemented everywhere in the country except within the approximate two miles of airport runways at affected airports, saying it would allow the cellular service to be deployed without broader harmful impacts to air travel, shipping, supply chain, and medical supply delivery.

AT&T and Verizon have agreed to government requests to delay launching 5G services within a two-mile radius of airport runways. President Biden said his administration will continue working toward a long-term solution.

The airlines want to continue discussions with the U.S. government and carriers on how to expand 5G deployment while protecting aviation from devastating operational restrictions.

The nearly daily back and forth between the parties portends to slow 5G deployments and add fuel to the fire over chronic problems with air travel experienced far before the issue of interference between 5G and airline safety arose.

The core issue

The airline industry has said the 5G near airports scenario would worsen their ability to keep planes in the sky at a time when hundreds of flights a day at major hubs were already being canceled for staffing and logistics reasons.

The wireless carriers and the Department of Transportation agreed to an investigation period on the topic of potential interference between 5G service near airports and airline operations.

The general hope is that any issues will be resolved in the days/weeks ahead, allowing the continued rapid deployment of 5G service near U.S. airports and allaying the fears of the comparatively slow-moving domestic aviation industry.

High stakes for carriers

The stakes for AT&T and Verizon are high as both recently shelled out $68 billion last year for airwaves in the C-band with the plan to use them for 5G in major metro areas, including areas surrounding many metro airports.

As noted, despite their beliefs on the issue of deploying 5G at airports, Verizon and AT&T have agreed to delays in rollouts with hopes of resolving this potential issue.

The former does not see problems with the practice, stating in prepared comments since December: The Federal Aviation Administration and our airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries.

Actions taken; actions requested

The wireless service providers and the DOT are not at a standoff, as the former group has taken several steps to try to resolve the 5G and airlines (airports) situation.

  • AT&T has weathered multiple delays in its high-speed rollouts that it would pause turning on a limited number of its 5G towers around airports.
  • AT&T and Verizon have already agreed to implement temporary power limits and special exclusion zones around airport runways, after which the FAA identified the fifty airports.
  • The airline CEOs who wrote and sent the letter to the government and the two carriers seek to continue discussions on how to expand 5G deployment while protecting aviation from devastating operational restrictions.

(Source: Pixabay)

What is at stake as carriers turn off older networks, and what can truck enterprises do to avoid a disruptive upgrade as deadlines quickly approach?

Often called the beating heart of America’s economy, the U.S. trucking industry hauls 80% of domestic freight and is beset with tech challenges to its operation and evolution.

The latest challenge is upgrading to newer telematics equipment and data services as wireless carriers retire the 3G networks that they rely on to monitor, manage, and optimize the operation of trucks and fleets.

Much of the trucking industry has moved away from 3G networks toward 4G and 5G technology for the far higher data speeds and expanding coverage along freight routes. However, there are enterprises who have not, as they are busy fighting drops in shipping revenues brought on by Covid-19, as well as disrupted supply chains, soaring fuel prices, and a severe driver shortage that predates 2017.

Truckers also face decisions on investing in expensive new vehicles (that can last over 15 years) amidst a global chip shortage that is paralyzing the transportation industry here in the U.S. The shortage is limiting the availability and boosting prices of next-generation, tech-loaded rigs.

The hearts of U.S. truck and fleet owners have been beating much faster every year as business-impacting issues pile up.

The 3G Sunsetting Challenge - Timing

That is because wireless carriers’ shutdown dates for 3G networks are looming large. U.S. businesses have been using 3G to transmit crucial data for two decades but now need to move, and the sooner, the better for the bottom line.

Each of the major carriers has its own timeline for 3G sunsetting. Plans and timing to phase out 3G services will vary by company and may change. Timelines submitted by the carriers include:

  • AT&T announced that it will finish shutting down its 3G network by February 2022.
  • Verizon announced that it will finish shutting down its 3G network by December 31, 2022.
  • T-Mobile announced that it will finish shutting down Sprint's 3G CDMA network by March 31, 2022, and Sprint's 4G LTE network by June 30, 2022. It also announced it will shut down T-Mobile's 3G UMTS network by July 1, 2022. It has not yet announced a shutdown date for its 2G network.

What is on the line:

Hours of service data

The trucking industry has evolved far beyond GPS location services to electronic logging devices (ELD). ELDs are Federally mandated recording units that track hours of service of drivers, and engine use, to avoid fatigue, potential accidents, and truck downtime.

Telematics and energy

Fuel represents one-third of vehicle operation costs, and in the last year the price of diesel in the U.S. has risen by a third per gallon on U.S. highways, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEA).

A wide array of data collected by fleet management systems allows operators to optimize routing, monitor fuel efficiency, and decide when to evaluate engines that use more efficient energy sources. Apps that locate the lowest fuel prices are beginning to flourish.

Vehicle tracking

Wireless operator network services are widely used to monitor the status of all vital systems in trucks to determine their performance and schedule out-of-service time for inspections, maintenance, and general adjustments.

Trucking industry experts and trade association execs have advised truckers and fleet owners who have not already upgraded to services and devices that use 4G or 5G wireless data services to start tomorrow.

How to proceed:

Identifying and contacting suppliers

This challenge can present an elaborate but mandatory undertaking as truckers must first identify whom provides their 3G-based telematics equipment and services. Next comes identifying which vendors and carriers provide what they need in a short interval. (That list includes truck manufacturers, vendors, resellers, wireless carriers, and other data service providers (such as those that offer satellite services that could offer an alternative).

And, although the timing could be worse with disrupted supply chains equating to lost business as well as costs of waiting to load, truckers and fleet owners must schedule time to pull their assets off the road for the necessary upgrades of 3G related systems and data services. Time is money, and freight hauling during the year-end holidays should represent big revenues.

Timing is everything

Truck and fleet owners need to check in with their providers to determine actual timeframes and delivery intervals for new gear as the global chip shortage has hamstrung automakers, computer manufacturers, and other core industries. The last thing truckers need is delays or uncertainty in 11th-hour upgrade efforts as carrier sunsetting timeframes in the U.S. have been set.

Emerging solutions

Orbcomm, a satellite constellation owner and single source of cellular services from seven providers globally, is offering a dual-mode connectivity option that it claims it’s “sunsetting-proof.” Customers select data plans and special devices, and their telematics data is switched between wireless nets and satellites when either’s performance falls below acceptable performance levels.

This includes instances where carriers sunset old cellular networks, but it also helps transporters manage assets moving in and out of cellular coverage, which can be lacking or unavailable because of network blind spots or lack of service in remote areas. Also, Orbcomm claims tracking trucks is not interrupted by cellular network congestion or harsh weather.

The dual-mode devices can be programmed to send and receive larger amounts of data in urban areas and keep a vital communications link outside of cellular. An early customer of SpaceX, Orbcomm claims to have over thirty satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

Lighten the load

For those truckers and fleet operators who have not yet completed upgrades, contacting whoever provides their wireless services for a detailed plan for the sunsetting by region and dates could lessen the impact of losing asset visibility and location data. That is because that although carriers need the 3G capacity to fuel faster services like 5G, it will not be an overnight or flash cut.

Connect with customers

Another essential aspect of the upgrade from 3G technology is communicating the plan to the truckers' freight customers to avoid concern and minimize potential loss of business. Sharing details of your upgrade plan or effort could put your customer at ease in a time of sweeping transitions.

Training wheels

And for those trucking entities who have upgraded or are close to completing the move, training drivers and other essential staff on the use and upkeep of the new products and data services is paramount. Essential systems – such as fleet management - have relied on 3G for over a decade, so tech-enabled advances need to be implemented as soon as possible.

Connection to existing operations

All new and improved infrastructure in telematics must be connected to the trucker and fleet owner's current enterprise IT infrastructure (and that of freight-hauling customers). This should make for a smooth transition for tracking and managing transportation intervals and delivery times. Upgrading one link in a supply chain typically requires coordinated adjustments elsewhere, especially during these disruptive Covid times.

Happy New Year?

Clearing skies are in the forecast for the trucking and transportation industries when it comes to the availability of much-needed pieces to the 3G network sunsetting challenge, according to experts.

The component shortage that has slowed the supply chain throughout 2021 is poised for recovery in 2022 – and that recovery will help drive the economy in the new year, according to an analysis by FTR Transportation Intelligence. Based in Bloomington, IN., FTR provides freight forecasting trends, from demand to system capacity to equipment production.

The road ahead

Time is of the essence for the trucking industry as fleet and rig owners who have not already moved beyond 3G wireless networks for their telematics and data services.

Falling behind competitors will only exacerbate business and financial strains in an industry that is increasing its use of technology to run more intelligent and efficient freight hauling enterprises. That is done by dealing with a long-running driver shortage and the emergence of cleaner energy sources.

Slowing the elevated heart rates of those in this crucial industry is paramount to the economic health of the U.S.