3G Sunset:

What is the impact for fleets?

What is the 3G sunset?

  • Whether you’ve been feeling unprepared for it, you’ve been discussing it with others in the industry for some time now, or you’ve never even heard of the phrase, the 3G sunset may feel like entering unchartered territory for some fleet managers.
  • Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have taken the decision to turn off their 3G masts, predominantly to make room for more efficient, cost-effective, and faster networks; 4G and 5G. This expansion of 4G and deployment of 5G is how we would expect modern technologies to progress over time however, despite the benefits this development brings, it can be unsettling for operators whose technology within their fleet heavily relies on 3G connectivity.

We know that as of January 2024, Vodafone and EE have both switched off their 3G masts, with O2 and Three planning to complete their switch off by the end of 2024.

  • From the operation of their tracking hardware to the way their data is stored and accessed, the 3G sunset raises several questions for fleet managers in terms of the implications of the transition and what it will mean for their risk management strategy.
  • To minimise disruption, and maintain and improve fleet safety, it's vital to have a good understanding of the sunset so that you can put measures in place to prepare for the decommissioning of 3G.

How will the 3G sunset impact your fleet?

It's possible that the 3G sunset has already been affecting your fleet but you might not have considered it as the cause of the issues you've been facing. The phasing out of 3G is not an overnight process, it is a gradual switch-off of network masts and frequencies over a period of time. Fleets that rely on 3G connectivity will inevitably feel the impact of this transition while it is happening.

Impact 1: Intermittent vehicle tracking in real-time

Currently, as a vehicle travels along a journey, a device that relies on 3G will attempt to connect to 3G masts. As a vehicle travels to the end of range of a 3G mast the telematics device will attempt to "jump" from this mast to another. If this "jump" fails, as there is no mast to "jump" to or the "jump" was unsuccessful, then the device loses network signal. Much like you'd experience intermittent and poor signal while trying to use your phone on a train, the same happens with a vehicle's telematics system.

Prior to the 3G sunset, motorways and rural areas were often most affected by this due to the lack of network infrastructure in these areas. As the 3G sunset progresses, the number of active 3G masts and their frequencies is reduced and 3G signal strength depletes. This causes a higher likelihood of failed "jumps" along a journey in all areas nationwide. The result is telematics devices lose signal temporarily therefore their position does not update live on your tracking platform. Vehicles will appear stationary on your tracking platform as a result.

The transition to 4G will massively improve the live performance of telematics devices. 4G masts have a greater signal strength and range, as well as a handshake and fall-back when switching between masts. These masts provide greater connection stability which results in increased performance. The data transfer speed between 3G and 4G isn't particularly different, however the increased stability will make it seem this way to users.

Impact 2: It will take longer to retrieve footage remotely

  • The increased risk of loss of network signal for telematics devices due to the 3G sunset will also cause issues with video footage requests. When you request video footage from your telematics device, the video files start to be uploaded by the device to your telematics server. If the device loses network signal while this upload is in progress it will stall the upload. Depending on your telematics provider this may result in a few different outcomes once the device re-establishes a network connection:

    - The video footage needs to be re-requested as the video file is corrupted
    - Your entire video footage upload restarts
    - Part of your video footage upload restarts
    - Your video upload continues from the point it stopped

    On your telematics platform this will look like the footage request has "frozen", it also ultimately results in the footage taking longer to be uploaded from your device to the server, or if no connection can be established, not at all. Most telematics devices have a 2G fallback when 3G connectivity is lost. The issue with retrieving video footage on a 2G connection is that video file sizes are large and 2G connectivity has much slower data transfer than 3G and 4G. Another issue you may encounter is that your telematics device may have preference to the 3G network so it "jumps" off 2G when it sees a 3G mast, only for it to then lose 3G connectivity again soon after resulting in a complete loss of signal.

For fleet managers, this can be extremely frustrating as if an incident occurs it may take hours to retrieve video footage of an incident. This may subsequently impact your claims process and day-to-day fleet operations, as both are now suffering with delays.

If footage is required urgently and remote requesting it is not working, you can still extract the footage manually from the storage device on the unit. For instructions on how to extract footage manually, please contact hello@vue-cctv.co.uk

The estimated difference in performance between 2G-3G-4G is as follows:

2G > 3G = ~10x improvement in performance
3G > 4G = ~5x improvement in performance

Impact 3: Some rural areas will experience a complete loss of connection

As Mobile Network Operators have fewer masts in rural, remote areas, black spots can occur as a result of the 3G sunset. A black spot is where there are no 3G masts for the device to connect to in an area. This can leave fleet managers completely detached from their drivers on the roads for long periods, with no access to many of the daily services that they rely on as part of their risk management strategy. This includes live tracking of a vehicle, remote health monitoring, being alerted when there is an incident or retrieving video footage.

Impact 4: Reliability will decrease over time

A point mentioned earlier but worth highlighting further is the fact that the 3G sunset is a phased approach and is a process rather than a "big bang". The anticipation was that the strength of services would gradually decrease over time, however we have already seen a significant impact on 3G connectivity nationwide but particularly in certain areas, such as in the North East and South West of England.

Waiting until the complete termination of 3G before upgrading any of the devices in your fleet will make the interim period extremely challenging and you're likely to experience severe continued degradation of service and issues with connectivity.

Want to find out how VUE can help your fleet prepare for the 3G sunset?

Contact us today

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