2G in IoT

What is 2G?

2G is the ‘Second Generation wireless telephone technology’ and was first launched in Finland back in 1991. At that time, it was the first technology to allow for data services on mobile devices, which was mainly utilised in the form of SMS and MMS. It let us send picture and text messages and was also capable of connecting to the internet.

One may notice a 2G connection when seeing the letter ‘E’ or ‘G’ in the corner of their smartphone screen. ‘G’ is GPRS, which provides rather slow speeds like a dial-up modem, when connecting to the internet or making use of other data services. The letter ‘E’ is an abbreviation of ‘enhanced’, which allows for a slightly faster internet connection compared to GPRS.

What were the primary benefits of 2G Technology back in the 90s?

Back when 2G was first introduced to consumers, people got excited for a good reason. The digital signal consumed a lot less power than previously used analogue signals, which meant mobile batteries (which also weren’t as powerful back then) lasted a lot longer.

It was not only the first technology to allow for mobile data services, such as SMS and MMS, but also encrypted this data along with phone calls. This was perhaps the biggest benefit of 2G at the time. The previously used 1G technology was still vulnerable to eavesdropping using radio scanners, which was seen as a major problem. Now, only the intended recipient of an SMS, MMS or phone call could receive or read it. Additionally, these calls were free of static background noise, which was another problem faced when using the previous version, 1G.

Downsides of utilising 2G technology for IoT & M2M Networks

1. Low data bandwidth: 2G technology has a data bandwidth that maxes out at 64kbps, which is completely dwarfed by the newest 5G technology, which has a bandwidth of 1gbps (15625 times that of 2G). While this limitation is not a big issue for most IoT-enabled devices, it makes real-time transmission of video (for instance surveillance cameras monitoring construction sites or optical recognition devices used for quality control in manufacturing) impossible.

2. It is subject to being shut down sooner or later: Most of the IoT solutions/strategies are designed based on the network technology they will use. If a company spends years developing an IoT infrastructure based on 2G, only for 2G to be shut down months later in that region, most of the work has been a waste of time, and all devices will need to be reconfigured.

The 2G Sunset

2G and 3G networks are subject to being shut down sooner or later. Many network providers have already published dates for their planned shutdowns. These vary significantly by country:

In the U.S., Verizon already shut down their 2G and 3G services at the end of 2019. The other large network provider, AT&T already shut down 2G back in January 2017 and will shut down 3G in 2 years.

In Europe, however, network companies have picked either 3G or 2G to be shut down, but rarely both of them. In fact, many European providers are considering, shutting down 3G way before 2G (i.e. Norway’s Telenor).

Meanwhile, in Australia, both 3G and 2G will be shut down quite soon.