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Technology changes quickly these days and we know as consumers it can be somewhat daunting to stay ahead of the curve. We take our job very seriously when it comes to guiding our partners through these changes as efficiently and painlessly as possible, so we wanted to answer a few questions you might have regarding the transition to 3G networks.

All four major carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile & Sprint) have already started “refarming” the old 2G frequencies for use with 3G / 4G LTE networks. Refarming is the term the carriers use for describing the frequency reallocation process–ending support for 2G and using that same frequency for 3G or faster networks in the area. Although this transition is not expected to be completed until January of 2017, both T-Mobile and AT&T have already started the process.

A few questions you may be asking yourself are:

“This seems to be coming from left field. Why weren’t we told about these changes sooner?”
Unfortunately, we are all in the same boat. Many M2M (Machine-to-Machine) companies are scrambling to upgrade equipment as well. According to AT&T, they’ve seen a 50,000% increase in cellular data growth from 2006 to 2013! Verizon, T-Mobile & Sprint have also seen explosive growth and are doing their best to stay ahead of the curve. 2G is simply a casualty of cellular data growth that happened sooner than the carriers anticipated.

Why should I worry about upgrading now? 2017 is more than a year away.”
Due to these refarming efforts by the carriers, we’ve already started to notice performance degradation across several regions. With this in mind, we strongly recommend upgrading existing systems in order to avoid any interruptions in service or reduced site performance.

Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of the carriers with regards to which regions will undergo refarming efforts. Support in your area may continue until 2017 or it may end at any time. T-Mobile has publicly stated that they intend to reduce 2G network capacity to a maximum of 25% until this transition fully takes place, as evidenced by the reduced performance in areas previously designated as strong signal locations. Upgrading now avoids these issues and actually improves site tracking performance and reliability.

“Isn’t it going to be expensive to upgrade and replace all these tracking devices?”  
Yes, an upfront cost will be incurred, similar to when it was time to upgrade from those old beloved Windows XP computers to a brand-new Windows 8 or Mac. While upfront costs may sting, your increased efficiency will pay for itself quickly. Not only are modern computing platforms faster but they are more secure as well. That’s why it makes sense to think of any procurement such as this as an investment.

“Why not skip 3G and employ a device that works with 4G LTE instead?”
Moving to an all-LTE solution has a somewhat cost-prohibitive threshold, coupled by little to no improvement in tracking performance. Our latest hard-wired model tracking devices are all 3G / HSPA+ network compliant while our Nexus Tablets are 3G or 4G LTE compliant. As we’d prefer not to pass on the high costs of LTE to our clients, we feel that 3G / HSPA+ devices give us the best cost-performance ratio for our application.

In addition to that, HSPA+ (also known as 3G or 4G) will be supported by both AT&T and T-Mobile for the foreseeable future–some experts claim as far out as 10 years. Verizon and Sprint plan to support their CDMA-based network for just as long, so 3G is here to stay for quite some time.

“So how do we go about getting this new upgrade? Can we install it ourselves?”
Excellent question! For those who’ve implemented our last generation hard-wired solution for your vehicles, the upgrade will take less than one hour per vehicle on average. A TransLoc technician will be required to perform the upgrade in order to provide warranty coverage. For completely new installations, it may take up to 3 hours per vehicle, as installation times vary depending on the model of vehicle.

Should your agency opt for our portable tablet solution, they can be implemented by your staff by assigning each driver their own, or by installing dash mount kits to each vehicle for quick switching of devices. We can even point you in the right direction should dash mounts be requested.

“So what does the timeline look like for us to get started?”
The upgrade timeline is affected by contract negotiation, budget approval, committee approval and signed work orders. For some, the installation side will be drafted, approved and completed in a matter of weeks, while others may take several months. Taking those factors out of the equation, our team needs a minimum two-week lead time for any on-site installation starting from the day the work order is signed and submitted to us. This gives our technicians time to schedule an available installation date, order equipment, and set up travel to your facility. Also keep in mind that the size of your fleet will shorten or extend that timeline. TransLoc deploys one technician for fleets of 8-10 vehicles and two for quantities greater than that. Our technicians average 3 to 5 installations per day; however, that number can vary depending on the type of vehicles you wish to deploy.

Our goal is to have your site’s hardware ready to roll within one month of the date of a signed work order. Though that may not always be an option, we strive to get these jobs done as quickly and professionally as possible.

-Mike Wooten, MECP
TransLoc Service Technician

Have additional questions or want to get in touch with us? Contact us.

Photo by Idaho National Laboratory / CC BY