If you watch the news, or even if you’ve only seen commercials, then you know about the wireless network shift to 5G technology. Of course, construction can sometimes be behind the technology curve, but as 5G becomes more prevalent, providers are going to be shutting down their 3G networks. As a wide assortment of construction equipment has features requiring connectivity, construction equipment managers need to prioritize the switch from 3G to 4G (if not 5G outright).
When Is the 3G Shutdown Date?
One complicating factor in switching to 4G is that the 3G shutdown date varies by provider. For example, AT&T has the earliest sunset date of the leading providers. It occurs on Feb. 1, 2022. That company is also shipping free phones to people who still use 3G devices.
However, the end of support for 3G smartphones also impacts any Internet of Things (IoT) devices relying on AT&T’s 3G network. The company says outdated phones will no longer be able to connect to the network. The same is likely true for items other than phones, too.
Sprint and T-Mobile are next in line to end their 3G support on April 1, 2022. Verizon is giving its customers comparatively more time by not planning its shutdown until Jan. 1, 2023.
Despite these variations, construction equipment managers must start planning to make the switchover soon. Even if they’re Verizon customers and have the benefit of the latest shutdown date, there’s still no time to waste. That’s especially true if they have a large equipment fleet. Any transition takes time, and waiting too long could cause a major operational disruption.
Preparing for the 3G Shutdown Will Improve Your Fleet
Making a construction equipment fleet work with the 4G network takes time and effort. However, the good news is that it should bring substantial payoffs to the company and its workflows. For example, upgrading construction technology can improve productivity and worker safety. Getting the equipment compatible with the 4G network is a great example of a tech improvement that can bring long-term gains.
Plus, many advantages that people bring up when discussing 5G networks — such as lower latency and faster data transmission speeds — apply to 4G networks too, but to a lesser degree. Taking a long-term viewpoint about 4G’s benefits to operations should help people feel more motivated to implement it on construction sites.
Efforts to implement 4G are not just happening here on Earth. A partnership between NASA and Nokia involves bringing a 4G LTE network to the moon. People in the space industry have high hopes for what that could mean. It currently takes 2.5 seconds to send radio signals to the moon and back. Having 4G on the moon could accelerate such communications.
That’s just one example of how a 4G upgrade could overcome a known problem. If it can have such an effect on space communications, there are plenty of opportunities for the faster network to help construction site efficiency, too.
Will the 3G Network Shutdown Cause Immediate Issues?
All the details available so far indicate that 3G-enabled devices will suddenly become useless once the network’s sunset date arrives. In other words, it would not be a case of certain features progressively failing to work, but a situation where network connectivity becomes impossible.
There’s also a real-life example of widespread network incompatibility issues that could spur construction equipment managers to act. AT&T turned off its 2G network in 2017. That action caused the disappearance of 70% of San Francisco’s trains and buses from a real-time mapping system within hours.
The quick emergence of that issue emphasizes how construction equipment managers cannot assume they’ll have a grace period or any other time extension that might let them ignore the upcoming deadlines for longer. Most of them are probably well aware of how problematic it can be when one piece of equipment malfunctions. The sudden inability for machines to use the 3G network could be much worse, depending on the size of a company’s fleet and the locations of the equipment.
It could also pose problems with people being uncertain of what’s happening and initially attributing issues related to the 3G network shutdown to other matters. Perhaps a small construction company has five connected machines, with only one that still uses 3G. If that machine no longer shows up on a map, was it stolen or tampered with? Possibly, although the issue could also be 3G related.
Upgrading to 4G Supports Better Productivity
Construction contractors increasingly realize that using tracking devices with their equipment is a practical way to get a higher return on investment. Ian Ouellette is the vice president of product for Triax Technologies, which sells a particular line of construction trackers. He explained, “The three big use cases for tracking equipment have to do with location, utilization and maintenance. Just identifying where your equipment is is important.”
Support for such trackers typically spans beyond the 4G network. However, deciding to upgrade to 4G from 3G is a great step to take in ensuring equipment — and its trackers — work as expected for years to come.
Many trackers currently support numerous networks and connectivity options, ranging from Bluetooth to Sigfox. However, it’s difficult to find any devices that work with 3G networks. When people have equipment that does not work with 4G, they may not be able to take advantage of the latest construction equipment tracking technology.
People who purchase construction equipment are often interested in getting machines that support the most innovative technologies. It saves time and money to immediately see a real-time machine location or verify who’s using it.
The 3G shutdown date is getting nearer in the United States. Failing to upgrade to 4G soon could mean equipment managers fail to future-proof their fleets. If that happens, lost profits, upset clients and more could result.
Prepare for the 3G Network Shutdown Now
This overview shows why construction equipment managers should treat their 4G upgrades like any other type of equipment maintenance. If a machine can no longer connect to the internet, most of its essential features will no longer work. That’s arguably as undesirable as its motor or another primary component failing to function.
Fortunately, there’s still time to upgrade to 4G. Doing that is the best way to avoid complications that could otherwise cause costly ramifications.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience covering stories in the construction and heavy equipment industries.