CTIA: Should M2M skip 3G and go right to 4G?

The question of 2G in M2M has taken an interesting turn at CTIA Wireless in New Orleans.  It seems that people are no longer concentrating solely on how long 2G will be around for M2M, but instead turning their attention to the 3G network.



The question of 2G in M2M has taken an interesting turn at CTIA Wireless in New Orleans.  It seems that people are no longer concentrating solely on how long 2G will be around for M2M, but instead turning their attention to the 3G network.


A couple months ago at CeBIT, there was an interesting roundtable where top M2M analysts all agreed that eventually turning off 3G networks and going straight to 4G in M2M was a viable option. By switching off 3G networks, the belief is that 2G will function for small data such as M2M services, while 4G will be used for capacity.


At CTIA Wirless this week, M2M Zone spoke with some top executives in the industry to get their take on the topic.  The results were surprisingly mixed.


John Horn, president of RACO Wireless, believes that skipping 3G makes the most sense.  According to Horn, nobody is expanding 3G networks anymore so skipping 3G and eventually going to 4G is the best option. 


“If you need more speed and less latency, go to 4G,” said Horn. “If you need bandwidth go to 4G.”


Horn is still a major proponent of 2G in M2M and said that T-Mobile, whose preferred M2M partner is RACO, plans to refarm 75% of its 2G network and leave the remaining 25% for M2M long-term. But, when it comes to 3G and 4G in M2M, Horn says that as soon as 4G is cost affective and the ecosystem is right that 3G should be shut off.


“My gut tells me 3G will disappear before 2G,” says Horn, adding that he sees this happening in a five-year timeframe.


Alex Brisbourne, long-time president and COO of KORE Telematics, has a slightly differing opinion on the matter.  According to Brisbourne, skipping 3G and going to 4G is definitely an option, but first he believes that carriers need to be honest in what their intentions are with the networks. 


According to Brisbourne, if someone were to ask him what device to build today, he would tell them it depends on several factors. If you want to deploy a cheap device with a short lifespan of one or two years, he said he would tell them 2G.  If someone wanted to build a device to have longevity of around ten years, he would recommend 3G.  Brisbourne said he would only recommend a 4G device if it was going to be deployed in an urban setting and the cost of connectivity was unimportant.


On the other end of the spectrum from Horn is Mike Ueland, senior vice president and GM of Telit Wireless Solutions in North America. Ueland believes that skipping 3G is “the wrong strategy.”


According to Ueland, the cost of 4G modules is two times more expensive than 3G modules, and three times more expensive than 2G modules.  In Ueland’s opinion there needs to be a natural transition into 3G technology.


Ueland did acknowledge an exception in the automotive market.  According to Ueland, the automotive market can skip 3G and go to 4G, because it takes three of four years in production before the vehicle gets released.


This topic was also brought up in the M2M Zone Conference on Wednesday, where the panel weighed in on the issue from a global perspective.


According to Niclas Andersson, senior manager of International Sales Development, M2M Competence Center, Deutsche Telekom AG, Deutsche Telekom has no plans of shutting its 2G network in the U.S. under T-Mobile, or anywhere else in Europe.  He did agree that 3G may be skipped because “3G just won’t cut it.”


Similar to Horn’s perspective, Andersson believes that 2G is enough for most M2M applications, and if better coverage or bandwidth is needed then it is best to go to 4G.


Brian Murphy, head of M2M America’s, Vodafone, also says that Vodafone does not plan on shutting down 2G.  Murphy did acknowledge that the rest of the world is behind the U.S., so this problem of 2G, 3G and 4G in M2M isn’t as relevant to the rest of the world.


According to Murphy, there are not GSM bandwidth issues like there are in the U.S. with CDMA, as most counties are not facing the spectrum crisis that U.S. operators are facing today.  Murphy also believes that it is too late to skip 3G in the U.S. because there are already projects and applications being deployed using the network.


“2G is going to be there and so will 3G,” says Murphy.