July 20, 2012
Wireless for alarm signaling is evolving past 2G, but what's next and what's right for dealers?

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of SD&I magazine

A lot has been said in the alarm industry over the last several months regarding the fates of 2G networks in the U.S., hinting that those who don’t immediately swap out their 2G alarm radios for 3G technology may be late already. In fact, some companies have publically predicted what amounts to the end of days for 2G and stated the end is already here, saying security dealers should run to the nearest 3G provider before the sun sets on their businesses.

It’s important to remember, however, that this is far from 2008, the year when the old AMPS network sunset. For starters, there is no mandated sunset date on 2G—no specific cut-off date when customers who haven’t upgraded will be left unsupported. That said, it’s true that technology is always evolving, and the use of 2G networks is expected to diminish over the next few years, before it eventually sunsets in favor of 3G technology. But dealers have time to make a thoughtful, informed decision when deciding on a solution. 

This leads to the next question:  Which network makes the most sense for new installations and problem sites?

The sides of the 3G/4G ‘coin’

Many argue there isn’t a big-enough difference between 3G and 4G radios (for purposes of this article, 4G defined to mean HSPA+ and not 4G-LTE) to merit an investment in the faster 4G technology. The stated argument is that because the technological foundation is similar, 4G will go away when 3G does. But this argument fails to take history into account, and how the 3G and 4G networks may migrate years from today. Experience has shown that carriers desire to maintain existing networks as long as possible with a balance toward maximizing their revenue and efficiency at the same time. For this reason, it’s not unreasonable to expect that the faster network (4G – HSPA+) will gain greater favor over the slower HSPA, especially years from now when LTE speeds become the norm for portable users across America. It’s therefore also not unreasonable to expect the 4G-HSPA+ network may find favor as the fallback network of choice to LTE. If indeed this happens in areas throughout the country, radios limited to HSPA may find it difficult to get connected despite the fact that HSPA and HSPA+ are built on the same fundamental technology. 

At that point, it will be plain to see that there actually is a major difference between 3G and 4G; practical longevity.

Think of it this way: How much is it worth to a dealer to NOT have to replace a radio for another year or two in the future as the country prepares to move to LTE? Take into consideration that the price difference today between 3G and 4G-HSPA+ is not very significant and the gap may close over time. The answer then seems obvious—if a dealer can get an extra level of comfort knowing that the radios they install have the fastest technology short of LTE (which is 4G HSPA+), and that the carrier community may wish to maintain the best availability and performance to its portable customers where LTE may not be deployed, it stands to reason stepping up to HSPA+ is the smart, and thoughtful solution.

Yes, the industry must prepare for the end of 2G—but it must do so in as smart a fashion as possible. If it does not learn from history, it stands to repeat it. Today, 2G is losing favor to faster networks. The fact that 2G still has towers and strong signals does not mean it has the same availability as its faster counterparts. It’s a very real possibility 3G will find itself in the same situation as carriers move more broadly to LTE, and that dealers should not gamble their businesses on carriers keeping prioritization between HSPA+ and HSPA the same.

Dealers must realize they have options, and ensuring they pick the solution that gives them the best shot at long-term life is vital. Understanding all the issues is important in forming a balanced recommendation on how to move forward, and logic points to HSPA+ representing that best balanced option. Nobody can predict the future, but wouldn’t you sleep better at night erring on the side of caution than gambling that the carriers will migrate away from the 3G platform (HSPA and HSPA+) with the same level of access during its later days?