Did you know that it will be mandatory to replace or retrofit most US telemetry fleets no later than 2022? Are you aware that new telemetry devices can have a five- to seven-year battery life without a solar panel?
While these are just two of the many changes occurring in today’s telemetry market, many of these changes have one thing in common – new communication networks. Understanding the way these networks are evolving is key to leveraging these developments to your advantage.
A brief history of networks
It’s helpful to start by asking, “What exactly is a network?” A network is simply a collection of devices that are able to communicate with each other using a common language. This usually takes the form of one central node, such as a cell tower, communicating via radio waves to devices within a certain radius of it, such as cell phones.
Over the past 35 years, many network standards have been developed. The first-generation networks (1G) were developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. 2G networks were introduced in 1991 while 3G was introduced in 1998. Most recently, 4G (also known as LTE) networks were launched in 2010, and 5G networks are expected to launch in just a few years time. Each successive generation offers enhancements over its predecessors as the technology becomes ever more sophisticated.
One of the most exciting network advances for the gas industry is Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networks. There are many types of LPWA networks, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, but the networks with the most coverage in the US today are LTE-M and NB-IoT.
These networks are backed by large telecommunication companies such as Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile and fall into the 4G and even early 5G categories. LTE-M and NB-IoT already have nationwide coverage and are becoming the standard for new telemetry devices. Devices communicating on LPWA networks cost less and require significantly less power. This allows devices to have a much longer battery life while sending more data. As a result, you can make better operational decisions which lead to more savings for your business.
In recent months, the anticipated arrival of 5G networks has been widely discussed. However, despite the large amount of media coverage, it remains to be seen what 5G will look like when it is actually deployed at scale. Additionally, estimates of when this technology will be widely available range from months to several years depending on the region.
It is understood that 5G will be significantly faster than 4G networks, however, this will likely have little bearing on the telemetry market. Most telemetry devices only need to send small amounts of data, and transmission speed isn’t critical. As 5G technology solidifies, this could certainly change, but for now, it appears that LPWA networks will be the premier option for telemetry devices for the foreseeable future.
However, as the newer networks are introduced, the older networks need to be shut down. In the US, 1G was shut down in the late 2000s. 2G and 3G are in the process of being shut down now, and all major 2G and 3G US networks are expected to be completely offline by 2022. This is significant for the industrial gas industry because the majority of telemetry devices currently operate on 2G and 3G networks. Once those networks are shut off, 2G and 3G devices will no longer work because they will no longer have a network for transmitting data.
What this means for your business
The immediate impact to your business will come from the 2G and 3G network shutdown. If you have 2G or 3G telemetry devices in the US, you will need to replace or retrofit them. Depending on which carrier your devices use, some 2G and 3G devices will need to be replaced before the end of 2019. The rest will need to be replaced or retrofitted by 2022. This is startling news to many gas companies that haven’t been fully informed of the 2G and 3G shutdown implications.
While the need to replace 2G and 3G devices can certainly be inconvenient, there will be significant upsides for your business as well. The long battery life of these new devices lets you monitor mobile assets that aren’t near a power outlet or outdoors for a solar panel. For example, if you have a customer using cylinder packs for a laser application, it’s common for these customers to use large amounts of gas quickly and sporadically. Now, you can attach to these packs a telemetry device with five to seven years of battery life sending multiple readings per day for less than $250. This was not possible on the older networks.
Additionally, there is now a low-cost option to extend the reach of your telemetry devices called a mesh network. Mesh networks are similar to existing wireless sensors except with one key difference. A traditional wireless sensor can only communicate directly with one other device, usually some form of a collector box. They cannot communicate with other sensors that may be nearby which also communicate with that collector box. This can be problematic because if something is blocking the signal between the wireless sensor and the collector box, the signal will be lost because there is no redundancy in the system.
With mesh networks, the sensors can communicate with not only the collector box, they can also communicate with each other. So even if something is blocking the signal directly between the collector box and the sensor, the reading still reaches the collector box via the other sensors in the network.
This high level of redundancy prevents readings from being lost, particularly in industrial environments. For example, you could monitor the gas levels and pressure, freezer temperature, and CO2 concentration level at a beverage customer’s site all from one communication box without losing signals in transmission. With a system like this, you can ensure your customer never runs out and is in compliance with FDA temperature and CO2 monitoring requirements. While these are just a few specific ways your business can benefit from the new networks, the benefits can generally be summed up as providing better service to your customers at a lower operating cost for less initial investment.
The time is now
Time is by far the most important factor in maximizing the new networks’ benefits and minimizing the 2G and 3G shutdowns’ inconveniences. Failure to act could leave you facing an extremely tight window to replace your telemetry fleet. Fortunately, by acting today, you can avoid that scenario while further enhancing your operations through technology.
About the author
Eric Wise is the founder and CEO of Wise Telemetry, a leading company in the gas monitoring industry. All Wise Telemetry systems operate on the most modern and sophisticated networks available to deliver unparalleled value to you and your customers.
If you need to replace your 2G or 3G fleet, contact Wise Telemetry today to see how you can keep your operations running and enhance them even further through technology. To learn more, visit wisetelemetry.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.