The 3G switch off – changes are coming that will affect your survey business

KOREC customers have been asking us when the 3G switch-off will happen, what will happen and what controllers and receivers will be affected.

If you’re a regular reader of the news, you’ll no doubt have seen a number of stories recently on how the 3G switch off is already affecting the way we go about our daily lives. 

In particular, the Sunday Times recently featured an article about the growth of parking apps (regular visitors to our cities can have to deal with 30 different ones!) as parking machines are removed. 

These machines are disappearing because the mobile phone operators are switching off the 3G data networks used to process card payments. 

According to the article, Vodafone switched off its 3G network in Plymouth and Basingstoke on February 28th and will switch off the entire network by the end of the year. EE’s 3G network will be closed by early next year, with Three to follow by the end of 2024.

This is a serious inconvenience and indicative of the type of changes we can expect a whole lot more of during 2023. Mark Poveda, Group Commercial Director of KOREC said: “The geospatial industry, as reliant as it has become on phone networks for GNSS receivers, loggers and general field/office comms, is going to be no exception. We’re already hearing anecdotal evidence of performance issues from customers who have noticed changes in service availability where they have previously worked without problem.”

Why is 3G being switched off?

Mobile providers are switching off the 3G networks to make room for the more advanced 4G and 5G networks. 4G and 5G give users better, faster and more reliable services and therein lies our opportunity.

When 3G networks first came online in 2002, it was like trading a tape measure for a 3D Laser Scanner and when the first iPhone was launched in 2007, little did we imagine that there would be over thirty-four iterations to date, with the first 3G version only released in 2008.  

Mark said: “When the 5G network is fully active, its potential is hard to imagine but I believe that if we prepare now, then 5G is another fantastic opportunity for our tech savvy, expanding industry to become even better, more effective and of course, more profitable too.”

So, what’s the plan?

KOREC customers have been asking us when the 3G switch-off will happen, what will happen and what controllers and receivers will be affected. First of all, we’d like to reassure you that this won’t happen overnight, but will be phased in, subject to each mobile provider’s personal timetable:

However, these timings may yet change and certainly aren’t set in stone and we are already receiving anecdotal evidence of performance issues from customers who have noticed changes in service availability where they have previously worked without problem.

Simply, if you are using any manufacturer’s loggers or receivers not compatible with 4G or above, the chances are you will be affected at some point.

As a distributor for Trimble survey and mapping solutions, here at KOREC, we’re in exactly the same position as everyone else and consequently, having to plan ahead for these inevitable changes. 

Our customers, whether they are surveyors or engineers, are asking for a better connected site. A 5G network will assist this by enabling data to flow even faster and more efficiently than previously. For example, 3G can reach speeds of 8MB per second. 5G speeds will eventually run in excess of 1GB per second, up to a maximum of 20GB. 

In geospatial terms, that means a 5GB laser scanning project that took 2 hours to download on the 3G network, can be downloaded in just 35 seconds on 5G! 

Additionally, reports are stating that 5G can support one thousand more devices per square metre than 4G – a welcome upgrade for an ever connected world where even your fridge can communicate with you on food expiry and usage!

We are already investing in and upgrading our solutions to meet this new demand and would urge all users of any manufacturer’s geospatial systems to look ahead as well so that they are not caught out unexpectedly on site. Nobody wants to disappoint a client, lose revenue, deal with frustrated surveyors in the field or fail to deliver a project on time.

Which loggers and receivers will be affected?

Those Trimble devices currently streaming data across the 3G network will connect to the 2G network when and where 3G is unavailable.  The devices involved are the older generation controllers and those with internal GNSS receiver modems, which include:

It’s extremely important to remember that all manufacturers of loggers and receivers released before 4G will be affected, this isn’t just something that will affect Trimble equipment.

What will happen if I am using one of these loggers or receivers when 3G is switched off?

What happens will very much depend on where you are working in the UK and Ireland. 

In areas where good 2G coverage remains (although this is scheduled to also be switched off by 2033), it is uncertain how reliable this coverage will be and how well it will perform. 

However, the one thing that is certain is that you will be challenged with the slower speeds of a 2G network.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are no resources available that clearly detail which areas of the country have good, if any 2G coverage.

What can I do to stop the 3G switch off affecting my day-to-day work?

Above all, the 3G switch off is something that cannot be accurately predicted beyond the fact that it will happen. 

Whilst we don’t want any KOREC customers to panic, we do urge you to be prepared and encourage all users of the loggers and receivers listed above to think ahead so that you are not caught out unexpectedly on site. 

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