Between middle 2019 and 2021, Weathermatic will be transitioning all Smartlink aircards from 3G to LTE Cat-M1. This article is meant to answer some frequent questions about this transition.
Why are we replacing 3G aircards?
3G technology for phones has been supplanted by 4G LTE networks for some time now. AT&T, along with most other carriers, have now formally announced they will be ending 3G service at the end of 2021. In reality, it may start going down in some places faster than that, since any damaged 3G tower equipment will not be repaired, but just replaced with newer LTE hardware.
So if not 3G, what are you replacing your aircards with?
Our new Aircard will replace our 3G connections with LTE-M, or Cat-M1 modems. These are part of of the “LTE” spectrum, just like your phone, but not *exactly* the same. The cellular standards bodies, recognizing the important of IOT connections such as SmartLink Network, have segmented new networks into the “traditional” voice/data networks that your smart phone uses, as well as separate IOT bands (like Cat-M1). They use the same tower equipment, but have different requirements for device power usage and other attributes. This lets carriers optimize pricing and bandwidth for phones, as well as lower-power, lower-data-usage IOT devices.
When is Cat-M1 going to sunset? Am I going to have to replace my aircards again in 3 or 4 more years?
Since Cat-M1 is still fairly new to the scene (it was only launched wide-spread about a year ago), there has been no announced end-of-life. However, it will continue to work as long as LTE does, and while LTE has also not been given an end-of-life timeframe (since it’s still the dominant protocol!), it’s generally expected to last into the late-2020’s.
What about AT&T 5G Evolution? Shouldn’t we be going straight to 5G instead of Cat-M1?
AT&T’s current “5G” is really just marketing. If you look at the fine print, they call it “5G Evolution”, and say it is “our [AT&T] first step on the road to 5G”. That is to say — it’s not 5G at all! It is 4G with a few speed optimizations under the hood, which other carriers have been using on 4G for years. This is really just deceptive marketing, trying to make it seem like AT&T is a generation ahead of other networks, when really they are just implementing features on their network that other carriers have implemented already, and calling it “5G”. Note that when they say it is “2x faster”, they say it’s faster than “existing AT&T 4G”, *not* faster than competitor 4G. Truth is, AT&T has been slower than other carriers on 4G for some time, and now they’re faster than their own network used to be — and now in line with the rest of the 4G market.
Ok, then what about the real 5G?
“True” 5G will offer much faster voice/data communicatons for traditional mobile phones, as well as potentially being fast enough for home broadband. Those specifications are only recently finished, and will be rolling out in late 2019 and into 2020. If we were to develop a 5G aircard, the first year or two would probably have very poor coverage since 5G will take a while to roll out. Since LTE is expected to last well into the 2020’s, and since LTE coverage is generally already very good, this makes the most sense for everyone now. As 5G rolls out, we will always work to evaluate if it provides better performance for our customers, but there is no expectation that we’ll have to be doing any retiring of Cat-M1 LTE aircards anytime soon.