Verizon’s telematics unit shifts from 3G to 4G

Verizon Connect
Verizon is working to move its fleet customers to 4G before the scheduled shutdown of its 3G network by December 31, 2022. (Verizon)

It’s one thing to make sure consumers are equipped with the right handsets when the time comes to sunset 3G networks. It’s another thing when you’re talking about replacing gizmos in fleets of cars and other vehicles. Many of these GPS devices are supposed to last well past the typical handset upgrade, but fleet managers are being told that they need to replace their 3G devices with 4G/LTE modules.

According to Verizon Connect, customers already are finding success with 4G-enabled tracking devices. The company, which is one of two software groups within Verizon Business – the other being Blue Jeans – is the product of several fleet management solutions coming together several years ago.

Verizon recently showcased the experiences of Odessa, Texas-based KRP Rentals and Trucking, a company that rents out equipment to the gas and oil industry. KRP upgraded its older Verizon Connect units to 4G and started getting more accurate data about the location of its assets.

From a software perspective, little changes for customers during the transition, according to Kevin Aries, product management leader for Verizon Connect. From a hardware standpoint, most customers can self-install on their own time and Verizon will provide the instructions, or they can ask Verizon to provide professional installation. For a client like KRP, it took very little time to make the transition, he said.

RELATED: Verizon sets final deadline for 3G sunset

Verizon plans to sunset its 3G CDMA mobile network by December 31, 2022, which is more time than others are giving their 3G customers. T-Mobile plans to shut down its CDMA network, which it inherited via Sprint, by January 1, 2022, which is spurring all kinds of discontent from MVNO partner Dish Network. Last year, AT&T revealed plans to phase out its 3G network by February 2022.

According to Aries, Verizon’s program is adaptable to whatever works for the customer. Some customers are more sensitive to the timing due to their busy seasons. “We’ve really tried to be timeline-friendly with our customers,” he told Fierce.

“There’s a ton of flexibility,” he said. “We know customers have an operation to run. We recognize that even something as simple as exchanging a piece of hardware” can leave them off the road for a handful of minutes, which in some cases can mean a job for them. “We are very cognizant of that.”

Verizon’s Connect services met a big need throughout the pandemic as critical supply chains are part of its customer base – keeping grocery stores stocked and making sure medical supplies are making their way through the transportation system. “Some customers are still getting back on their feet from Covid,” he said.

Asked about those customers who say they’re fine with 3G and don’t want to change, Aries said the reality is, there’s a deadline.

But “in all honesty, those with 3G devices today tend to be some of those early fleet management adopters” who are more than happy to jump to the next generation. When they’re given the opportunity to upgrade their hardware, they’re “typically pretty happy to move forward. It’s also free, so there’s no real cost to them,” he said.

On the software side, they’re also getting more frequent location data from their vehicles, better engine data and information like tire pressure alerts.  

“We’re reaching out to customers and we’re getting a sense for when is the right time for them to go through what is essentially a hardware swap,” he said. That includes making sure they understand the reasons for the change and the benefits.

What about 5G?

Earlier this year, Verizon said more than 99% of its customers are using 4G LTE or 5G, with less than 1% still accessing the 3G network. While the operator extended the life of its 3G network more than once, those days are gone. Verizon says the date won't be extended again.

It’s virtually impossible to predict when all of these devices will move to 5G, but with Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), 4G and 5G can share spectrum and that automatically extends the life of 4G since it can share the same spectrum. “4G comes with a longer shelf life,” Aries noted.