Many GPS trackers and similar devices work exclusively on wireless networks called GPRS, also referred to as 2G and 2.5G networks. However many consumers know their cell phones work on 3G or 4G (LTE) networks, and we are beginning to hear that the next generation of wireless networks, 5G, is not too far away. Others hear about the decommissioning of the GPRS networks or wonder why GPS trackers continue to use what seems like an ancient technology. So what's the full story and should you be concerned? Here are the answers you need to know:
About 5 years ago, wireless service providers began to see a major uptick in video usage on mobile devices. They quickly realized 'the future was going to be all about video' and made plans to decommission their 2G networks to make room for upcoming 4G networks. In the US, AT&T decommissioned their 2G network on January 1st, 2017. Around the same time, a new category of devices were starting to become more mainstream: IOT (Internet of Things) devices. These products require a mobile network, however the amount of data being transferred is minimal, so they work on 2g networks without any hiccups. T-Mobile subsequently delayed the shutdown of their 2G network, as did several large service providers across the globe. In the US, AT&T customers using IOT devices were forced to bring their business to T-Mobile. And they didn't only bring their IOT devices, they brought their lucrative mobile phone business to T-Mobile as well.
Since this time, T-Mobile in the US, Rogers Wireless in Canada, and several other companies have delayed the decommissioning of their 2G networks as many as 3 times. Currently (July 2018), T-Mobile and Rogers have committed to keep these GPRS networks running until a minimum of December 31st, 2020, or for another 2.5 years.
Many GPS device manufacturers continue to offer 2G devices for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the amount of data being exchanged is very minimal. GPS trackers typically send their location information using coordinates, so they're essentially sending just a few digits to another device, where the app in the secondary device then plots these coordinates into a position on a map within a mobile app on the secondary device, so the 2G networks work perfectly for this purpose. Secondly, the components required to offer a GPRS compatible devices are significantly less expensive than 3G and LTE components, allowing manufacturers to offer their trackers at more affordable price to consumers, versus devices using components for the newer networks. The third, and possibly most import reason, is power consumption. GPRS networks require significantly less power, which leads to a much longer battery life and the ability to offer smaller trackers as the battery takes up a big percentage of the size of a GPS tracker watch.
How long will GPRS networks last? It depends where you live. Australia and some Asian countries appear to be leading the change away from these networks. Service providers in North America have delayed three times and have committed to keeping them online until 2021. And Europe, Africa and South America seem to be even further down the road.
Should I still purchase a 2G device? This is a matter of personal preference. Certainly, if you live in Australia, you'll need a 3G or higher device, but for the rest of the world, the answer depends on how long you plan on using your tracker and what you want to do next. Given that 3G and 4G devices are currently double the price with half the battery life, most experts still recommend purchasing a new 2G tracker today at their low prices, and upgrading in two years when prices of 3G and 4G trackers are expected to fall and battery life is expected to improve. One thing that is for sure, a GPS tracker with a dead battery is completely useless, so battery life, and not the mobile network, should probably be the most important factory to look at when selecting a GPS Tracker.