The U.S. 3G sunset should come as no surprise to anyone managing a fleet of connected devices. AT&T announced their 3G network would be sunset in February 2022, and T-Mobile’s is slated to happen this month.
But sunsets aren’t just as simple as switching the network on/off. They often take months to actually conclude. If your devices rely on 2G/3G networks, you might not notice a difference in usage for months after the official announcement.
At Particle, we’re constantly monitoring the quality of cellular service by region, carrier, network, and devices. As of early April 2022, Particle has picked up a definitive signal of the long-awaited AT&T 3G sunset. Let’s look at what the data says.
AT&T 2G/3G Signal Quality and Access Are Deteriorating Quickly
Let’s recall the publicly announced timeline for the U.S. 2G/3G sunset based on what AT&T/T-Mobile have provided. The important dates are:
- AT&T 3G announced a shutdown date for February 2022.
- T-Mobile 3G sunset is set to begin in April 2022, and is expected to complete by July 1, 2022.
- T-Mobile 2G sunset is expected to begin in December 2022.
- 2G/3G sunset dates outside of the US are listed here.
According to Ismael Sotelo, a Technical Support Engineer at Particle, the AT&T sunset is finally underway, and its pace is picking up.
“Before turning off its 3G network, AT&T towers represented 86 percent of the total 2G/3G towers that Particle devices were connected to,” Ismael said. “At the moment, AT&T towers only represent 53 percent of the towers our devices are connecting to.”
Ismael pointed out that this change is not only affecting the number of towers available, but is also impacting the signal quality from both AT&T and T-Mobile.
“If we assume a ‘good’ tower has at least 35 percent signal strength, according to our RF characterization metrics, 86 percent of all AT&T 2G/3G towers had a good signal before the sunset,” Ismael said. “Now, only 70 percent of the towers provide a ‘good’ signal. This number is quickly decreasing.”
As of today, nearly half of the 2G/3G devices we’re tracking are connecting to T-Mobile towers. The pace at which AT&T’s networks are dropping devices has rapidly increased since March 2022.
Despite AT&T’s announcement of a February 2022 sunset, the actual process has been much more gradual. Carriers typically don’t make this information available to smaller fleet operators. Particle, with insights into connectivity across our customer base, can give you a much more proactive way to prioritize and plan for migrations based on up-to-date data.
Devices Connecting to 3G Networks Remain High
While there’s undeniable evidence that 2G/3G networks are rapidly degrading in accessibility and signal quality, the number of devices connecting to them has remained fairly constant.
So far, many enterprises have been slow to move away from 3G networks to those with a longer runway.
As we discussed in our guide to the 3G sunset, there are some key risks that come with not upgrading your devices to work with LTE networks, such as:
- Your devices may experience degraded signal, intermittent connectivity, and longer roundtrip times.
- By the end of the year, 2G/3G devices in the U.S. will ultimately not be able to connect to cell towers.
Failure to transition away from 2G/3G networks can jeopardize your IoT deployment and impact customer relationships.
How Particle is Managing the 3G Sunset in the United States
Here’s how Particle has helped – and is continuing to help – our customers migrate away from 2G/3G networks.
- By early 2021, we started working with our customers who had deployed 2G/3G devices to build a migration plan – well in advance of the projected sunset dates.
- Offered hardware compatibility across generations to make it easy to switch from 2G/3G to LTE.
- On an ongoing basis, we’ve monitored the impact, magnitude, and timing of the sunsets across carriers. We do that by analyzing our connectivity data for carrier exposure, geolocating devices based on cell towers and comparing their locations to known T-Mobile tower locations, and running custom firmware during off hours to collect more information on the progress of the sunset.
We’ve helped our customers navigate these challenges by giving them greater insight into when their devices will be offline. This helps them focus their migration efforts on the most important activities and their most at-risk devices.
For Particle device-specific documentation on how to navigate the 3G sunset, please refer to our documentation here.