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Sprint promises to take 2G into the Internet of Things

They'll be no refarming round here

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Sprint has committed to keeping its 2G network operational beyond AT&T and Verizon, hoping to sign up some machines even if fleshy humans wander away.

Announcing a deal with u-blox to provide embedded modules which are pin compatible with GSM kit already in use, Sprint promised to maintain its CDMA network for "the long term", hoping to attract machines put off by AT&T's decision to shut down 2G in 2017.

Smart meters, cars, home automation and industrial applications all need low-bandwidth connectivity - the Internet of Things won't happen without it. Right now 2G telephone networks are just about the only option, the 900MHz ISM band will mesh a metropolitan area and White Space devices are on their way, but for the moment the cellular operators have a window of opportunity.

2G telephone networks aren't well suited to M2M applications, the signalling overhead and synchronous bandwidth work against it, but the largely-ubiquitous coverage and decent building penetration offsets that.

2G cellular modules are expensive, in M2M terms, costing around $20, but a 3G module will come in at twice that, while LTE is several times the price. That $20 is also largely consumed in patent fees, so the price won't drop much more despite technical innovation.

Machines have a much longer life than phones, so operators wanting to grab some IoT revenue are promising to keep their 2G networks alive for at least a decade, and often longer, which is the motivation behind Sprint's commitment.

Verizon's 2G isn't being as precise as AT&T, but admits it will be shutting down 2G around 2021. T-Mobile is refarming its 2G spectrum while publicly saying it will reserve enough to keep a 2G network operational as it too fancies some machine-to-machine pie.

But keeping a 2G network operational is expensive, and if it's only going to be used to connect a few thousand 'leccy meters the there's not a lot of point, but operators hoping to manage those connections need to be upbeat as any failing confidence will prevent utilities committing to a 2G future.

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