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What is the true lifespan of a new digital alarm?

Adrian Scaife of Alcuris notes that new digital social alarms that are connected 24/7 are now just another class of digitally connected device, but will their lifespan be the same as analogue alarm units or maybe more like a mobile phone?


While it is partly about ongoing manufacturer support it is also about the underlying technology that manufacturers choose to use. One of those key technologies for new digital alarms is the use of cellular connectivity either as a primary or secondary route for transmitting life critical alarm calls to the monitoring centre.

Much has been written about the need for SIMs that are non-steered and can roam between networks but very little about the relevance of using 2G/3G/4G (and soon 5G) for digital alarm traffic.

Here is the challenge – Vodaphone (one of the more transparent European cellular providers) announced in 2016 that they would shut down their 3G network in Europe in 2020 and not turn off their 2G network before 2025.Deutsche Telecom is following a similar route with 3G being continued until 2020 and no plans to turn off 2G. Importantly, these dates fall before the last of the analogue lines will be turned off in 2025.

This is a global phenomenon and in territories where they use 3G for Machine to machine communication, because they were late to deploy 2G, the 2G networks are already being turned off by operators in Australia, New Zealand and North America.

The drivers for moving from 3G to 4G in Europe include:

  • It is cheaper to run for the Operators than 3G.
  • It gives a better user experience than 3G through lower latency/greater speed/better quality.
  • The support requirements and infrastructure to support all these generations of network technology are getting expensive and need to reduce.
  • Perhaps most importantly the Operators want to use the valuable (some bought at great cost) radio spectrum, used for cellular communications, in the most effective way to provide the best commercial outcomes.

The TSA in last year’s Mobile Communication Guidance report noted:

“3G networks have a shorter lifespan ahead of them. Most networks are looking at no longer supporting 3G from 2020 with some stretching that to 2022. What “no longer support” means is open to interpretation; some will wind down coverage and others will look to switch off completely.

Most MNO’s (Mobile Network Operators) now no longer sell a device that doesn’t support 4G, in the aim to wash out any 3G only users over the next two years. Again, you will likely see coverage reductions in the meantime as the favourable frequencies are moved to 4G to further enhance coverage and throughput.”

Part 2 of this blog will address two questions

  • What are the likely consequences of the 3G sunset on alarm transmission and performance?
  • What are the advantages of using 4G?

To conclude, if you are just about to buy digital alarms, perhaps for the first time, consider their likely longevity. At the moment there is a cost differential between 4G and 3G. This in part is due to 4G hardware being more expensive but also 3G reaching the end of its shelf life. It’s just like the heavily discounted bargains in supermarket for goods that are close to their sell by date!

To paraphrase a well-known saying: “The bitterness of short lifespan remains long after the sweetness of lower price is forgotten..”

Adrian Scaife is Business Development Manager at Alcuris Ltd.

Note: these are the views of Alcuris Ltd and do not necessarily represent the views of TEC Services Association.


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