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M2M Industry Faces Call to Action with 2G GSM Sunset, Part 1

AT&Ts plan to sunset its 2G GSM GPRS network on Jan. 1, 2017 is coming up quickly, and any company using this service should already have begun transitioning their programs.

The decision by AT&T to shut down the network was due to several factors, as the company came under increasing pressure with the growth of wireless data, competition from other carriers, and the high cost of adding new wireless spectrum.

Carriers in general have experienced large increases in the number of smart phones and a dramatic rise in packet-data use. This has forced them to acquire spectrum to add capacity, and deploy more spectrum-efficient protocols in existing spectrum to improve capacity. As a result, AT&T needs to re-use its existing spectrum at 850 MHz and 1900 MHz for 3G and 4G technology deployments. This decision has put tens of thousands of AT&T 2G customers in a tough spot.

The shutdown is scheduled for just over three years from now, but AT&T customers already cannot develop any more new GSM M2M products for use or sale in the U.S., nor can they deploy any more 2G GSM devices into their existing M2M applications installed base.

The GSM sunset is a major issue for the M2M industry because such large numbers of GSM/GPRS devices have been deployed. To maintain service, an estimated 10 to 12 million 2G GSM devices must be replaced in just over three years.

Assuming 200 working days a year, the M2M industry must replace more than 17,000 devices per day, starting immediately.

The alarm industry will be among the most affected. Alarm manufacturers overwhelmingly chose 2G GSM for their cellular deployments when transitioning from Analog AMPS, because the cost of GSM/GPRS radios was lower than other technologies. Last year, on receiving the AT&T announcement, the alarm industry needed to replace an estimated 4 to 5 million 2G GSM alarm devices within four years.

Companies using AT&T for 2G GSM service need a plan of action now. You need to consider carefully the cost of 2G GSM replacement for devices, logistics, installation services, truck rolls, and more.You should quickly develop and execute comprehensive plans, including new products from suppliers, detailed schedules, customer notifications, installer training as needed, recall plans, and more.

This transition will be costly. Companies need to change an estimated 10 to 12 million 2G GPRS devices, which is going to cost the M2M industry several billion dollars in the next several years.

To help M2M companies navigate a successful transition path, we will present a blog series on the topic of the 2G sunset. Watch this space for more information on the competitive landscape for cellular device deployment and options for companies with 2G GSM connectivity with AT&T.

You can also read the Aeris white paper,AT&T's GSM Sunset, for a comprehensive overview of the issue.

(Syed Zaeem "Z" Hosain is a founder and Chief Technical Officer of Aeris Communications, Inc.)

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