The Hidden World of 3G

Posted by FluidOne on Nov 30, 2023 09:21:11 AM

In 2023, the era of 3G is coming to an end, but its impact extends far beyond mobile devices. With the advent of 5G, technology is being revolutionised, propelling advancements in virtual reality and expanding connectivity

Cast your mind back to 2001 when the world was first introduced to 3G - "third-generation" wireless communication technology. This technology revolutionised how we communicate, expanding data transfer capabilities from voice and text to video. A significant upgrade from its predecessor, 2G, it allowed for connectivity on smartphones, freeing professionals from their desks and enabling them to access the web on the go. This innovation sparked the beginning of live content collaboration, apps, and social networking.

After two decades of service, the time has come for the retirement of 3G. But the 3G sunset is not just a UK phenomenon - it's a global event as mobile networks free up spectrum and infrastructure to support newer and more advanced technologies. Many global carriers have announced their timelines for the 3G switch-off, spanning between now and 2026.

However, despite the evolution of technology, a significant number of people still depend on 3G for their mobile network. In fact, one in four people in the UK continue to utilise this network, while a small percentage even rely on it as their sole means of connectivity. Nevertheless, mobile network providers across the UK are implementing plans to phase out the 3G network by 2033. But beyond mobile networks, there are a plethora of other devices that utilise 3G networks, many of which are unknown to most people.

Popular Uses of 3G Networks

As previously mentioned, 3G has long been a go-to for wireless communication. More than mobile networks, here are a few other ways that 3G is traditionally, and more commonly, used.

  1. Computer Modems: 3G technology is still used in computer modems, which provide wireless internet connectivity to desktop computers and laptops. This is especially useful in areas where wired internet connectivity is not feasible or available.
  2. Telematics: Telematics refers to the use of wireless communication technology to transmit data from vehicles to a central server. This technology is used extensively in the automotive industry for various applications such as remote diagnostics, vehicle tracking, and infotainment systems.
  3. Smart Home Devices: Smart home devices, including smart thermostats, security cameras, and lighting systems, use 3G technology to communicate with the internet and with each other, enabling users to control their homes remotely. In fact, these in-home smart devices are becoming so popular that now you can get smart dishwashers and even smart toilets!
  4. Public Transport: Public transport systems such as buses and trains are using 3G technology to provide real-time information to passengers. This includes information about routes, schedules, and delays, which can be accessed through mobile apps or display screens at stations and stops.

The Hidden World of 3G

Alongside the common uses of 3G, there are also some unusual and unexpected places where this technology is being employed. These may not be the first places you'd think of when it comes to 3G technology, but they demonstrate its versatility and flexibility. These unique applications also reveal the extent to which we rely on 3G technology in our everyday lives, often without even realising it. Let's take a closer look at these surprising uses of 3G.

  1. Traffic Lights: Traffic light systems are connected to a central system using 3G technology. This enables them to communicate with each other and traffic management centres, allowing for better traffic flow and reduced congestion. The system can also adjust the timings of the lights based on traffic volume, which helps to improve traffic flow. In 2015, Dubai’s traffic lights became the first system in the world to apply a completely 3G-connected Traffic Control Centre with 830 traffic light junctions.
  2. Vending Machines: Some vending machines are equipped with 3G technology to allow for remote monitoring and restocking. The machines can be monitored in real-time, and when they are running low on stock, the vending company can send someone to restock them.
  3. GPS Trackers on Livestock: Farmers are now using GPS trackers on cows and other livestock to monitor their location and ensure their safety. The trackers use 3G technology to transmit data to the cloud, allowing farmers to track their movements and receive alerts if they stray too far from their grazing area.
  4. Wearable Devices and E-readers: Wearable devices such as smartwatches and fitness trackers use 3G technology to transmit data to and from the cloud. This enables users to track their health and fitness data in real-time and also allows for remote monitoring by healthcare professionals. Some e-readers, like the Kindle, use 3G networks so readers can connect to the bookstore and websites like Wikipedia.
  5. Medical Alert Devices: Alert devices used for diabetes and oncology monitoring rely on 3G to transmit vital information, enabling seamless communication between patients and healthcare providers. By leveraging the capabilities of 3G, these monitoring devices ensure timely and accurate data transmission, contributing to effective and potentially life-saving care.
  6. Remote Weather Stations: Meteorologists all across the globe rely on remote weather stations to collect weather data. Many of these stations use 3G technology to send data back to central databases, allowing meteorologists to analyse the data and make accurate weather predictions.

As networks across the UK and the rest of the world will soon be saying goodbye to 3G, it is crucial to check that devices are compatible with new generations of connectivity. The above examples highlight some of the lesser-known implementations of 3G technology, proving that the switch-off will likely have even more unforeseen consequences. Whilst mobile phone users will be largely unaffected due to their frequent upgrades to newer and faster handsets, other pieces of 3G-reliant technology lack this hardware refresh lifecycle, ultimately leading to end-of-life scenarios where functionality ceases.

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