Second life for 2G networks?

Written by on November 24, 2014 in Guest Blog with 0 Comments

Shutting down your 2G network could be a mistake, according to researchers who say that old GSM networks can be put to better use running M2M apps.

With a number of cellcos making plans to decommission their 2G networks in the next couple of years, a research team led by Corrales Madueňo at Aalborg University in Denmark says it has calculated the capacity of such networks and reckons that with a little re-engineering they can – and should – serve as a backbone for smart meters to talk to each other.

Technology Review reports:

They assume that within 1,000 meter radius of a standard base station, with roughly three smart meters per home, there are likely to be over 20,000 devices competing to communicate over the network. […]

Madueňo and co say that the network can be made more efficient by assuming that many of the devices will have very similar requirements that can be catered for en masse with some straightforward engineering changes.

These changes should make the network more efficient. They go on to calculate that a GSM cell operating on a single frequency could support up to 70 messages per second. This translates into approximately 13,000 smart meters reporting every five minutes. That is 133 percent more than is possible with the current GSM network standards.

Which sounds good on paper. The thing is, many cellcos are already basing their M2M strategies around 3G and 4G, not 2G.

For example, AT&T – which already uses its GSM network for M2M apps – is shutting down its 2G network in 2017 for precisely that reason. On the company website, AT&T says migrating M2M services to HSPA and LTE will enable enhanced video-based M2M apps like driver dash cameras for fleet trucks.

That said, upgrading M2M customers to 3G and beyond isn’t a simple task – or cheap. M2M customers don’t change out their terminals very often, and 3G-enabled M2M devices are for the most part more expensive than 2G versions.

However, many cellcos are shutting down their 2G networks for more practical reasons. For one thing, they cost money to run. At a time when core revenues are dropping and new sources of revenue offer incremental growth at best, cellcos don’t want spend more opex on legacy networks than they have to.

More to the point, they need the spectrum. Shutting down 2G networks frees up valuable 900 MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum that can be re-farmed for LTE.

There could be certain situations in specific markets where it makes sense to keep the GSM network active for M2M purposes. But with so many cellcos banking on LTE as the ultimate enabler of the Internet of Things, the research paper from Madueňo et al looks more like an engineering thought exercise than a practical M2M strategy.

This blog first published at TelecomAsia.

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About the Author

About the Author: John is editor of Disruptive.Asia and was previously managing editor at Telecom Asia. He has been covering the Asia-Pacific telecoms industry since 1996. He has two degrees in telecommunications and has worked for six years in the US radio industry in various technical and advisory capacities, covering radio and satellite equipment maintenance, studio networking, news writing and production, the latter of which earned him several regional and national awards. .

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