Smart Machines & Factories
Overcoming 3G shut off with the help of industrial routers
Published:  12 July, 2021
With the expansion of 4G LTE and 5G networks, more and more operators are announcing the decommissioning of their 3G networks

AT & T turned off its 2G network in 2017 which caused San Francisco’s buses and trains to disappear from its NextMuni system map, which passengers use to check the location of vehicles and arrival times. This resulted in fierce pressure from the public to upgrade its monitoring devices. Andy Conway explains why industrial businesses could soon face a similar issue.

With the expansion of 4G LTE and 5G networks, more and more operators are announcing the decommissioning of their 3G networks. For example, Vodafone has already announced its plans to phase out 3G networks across many European countries in 2021 and 2022, leaving 2G networks in operation until the end of 2025.

While 2G/GPRS may be enough for occasional monitoring or small data transfers, it won’t be sufficient for remote access and control or continuous monitoring. Furthermore, it doesn’t offer future scalability. The UK’s (analogue) public switched telephone network (PSTN) is also being switched off in favour of a fully digital network. Many companies in the utilities sector have thousands of sites still connected via the PSTN or cellular 2G/3G. Some older devices may not support alternative connections, so these sites will go offline until they are physically replaced. Operators must address these connectivity changes soon, or they risk revenue loss and regulatory issues with loss of reporting capability.

A network for the future

One of the drivers behind new network roll outs is the massive actual and predicted growth in datapoints and sensors in the field. Transmitting and storing all this new data is often uneconomic or unviable, so local data processing is a common requirement to enable businesses to monitor everything, but transmit and store only what they need. This makes support for existing protocols such as S7, ModBus, DF1 or DNP3, in the water sector, as well as secured connections like dynamic multipoint VPN (DMVPN), a critical requirement.

The INSYS icom range of routers and gateways provides multiple LAN and WAN connections plus excellent security and local data processing (iDS), managed VPN (iCS) and on-premises or cloud based router management (iRM) for up to 20,000 devices. One key feature is WAN chains — an easy to configure way to set up multiple WAN + VPN connections for automatic (or timed) switch-over, on each device, that can be easily copied across multiple router configs.

A secure system

Despite the benefits of digitalisation, we know that it comes with increased security risks. Securing connections and access to the router is therefore critical.

INSYS icom’s approach to security starts with its secure operating system, which is developed and maintained in-house. icom OS is a hardened Linux operating system, with a number of security functions, including netfilters, MAC filter, packet filters, a configurable firewall, hardened encrypted and signed firmware, access controls with different user profiles, PKI, X.509 and HTTPS certificate-based authentication and rolling encryption. Containers running on the routers are isolated from the firmware and have their own IP end points with full firewall control. INSYS icom uses external specialists to conduct cyber-security penetration testing through the year and are committed to regular updates of the icom OS, iCS, iDS and iRM plus continuous assessment by existing customers and industry bodies.

*Andy Conway is sales manager at embedded computing expert Recab UK