Evolving Communication Technology & The 3G Sunset
Feb 3, 2022
Written by Jamey Hilleary, Remote Monitoring Product Manager
On April 3rd, 1860, a new and innovative cross-country mail service was inaugurated in the continental United States. The Pony Express carried mail from St. Joseph, Missouri across the western plains, over the Rocky Mountains, across the barren western desert, and over the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Sacramento, California; a journey of approximately 1,900 miles (3058 km). This new express mail system cut the delivery time of cross-country communication from 4 – 6 weeks, the average stagecoach mail delivery time, to 10 days; a delivery time many thought impossible to achieve. Gold had been discovered in California in 1848, which not only expedited achieving statehood in 1850 but also significantly increased the demand for rapid and reliable business communication between the east and west coasts of the now trans-continental United States of America. Added to this was the concern that California and its riches might end up in the Confederacy.
Accomplishing this lofty goal required a great deal of investment, planning, and risk. Approximately 400 small, fast horses were purchased from across the country. 120 riders were hired at a wage of $100.00 per month apiece. The average wage for unskilled labor at the time was about $15.00 - $30.00 per month. 184 stations were built approximately 10 miles (16 km) apart. Riders rode day and night, through all kinds of weather, through hostile territories, for up to 20 hours straight, changing horses every 10 miles. A great deal of planning, administrative, and organizational energy was used in developing the logistical model.
A great deal of time and upfront financial investment was required to implement the service. Great risks were taken, both financial risks by investors and personal safety risks by employees to achieve success and exceed the goal. The election results from the presidential election in November of 1860 were delivered to the newspapers in California a mere 7 days and 17 hours after publication in the east coast newspapers. On October 24th, 1861, Samuel F.B. Morse completed the transcontinental telegraph system which linked the east coast with the west coast. Two days later, after just 18 months of service, the Pony Express ceased operation. By 1915, AT&T completed the first transcontinental telephone service and the telegraph system’s days were numbered.
This cycle of new technology supplanting and ultimately rendering obsolete the older technology did not begin with the Pony Express and the telegraph won’t end with SMS texting or Snapchat. Technology is always evolving and improving (mostly), and this constant change is not only beneficial to business, but often driven by the demands of business.
Business and industry have a remarkable propensity to drive innovation both within the organization and by stoking the imagination and creativity of entrepreneurs outside the organization. Technologies originally developed for specific solutions, such as computers for calculating artillery trajectories or code-breaking, were quickly adapted for business tasks including payroll, inventory management, and accounting tasks. The first, rather featureless and cumbersome, spreadsheet applications swiftly replaced reams of 11” x 17” manual sheets, and word processing software consigned the typewriter to flea markets and museums.
The internet, first designed for universities and the US Defense Department, is rapidly replacing brick and mortar as the consumer’s choice to shop for almost everything imaginable. Email has become the “telegraph” to the “Pony Express” of the postal service. These technology changes have been driven by industry and are always on the lookout for new ways to do what we currently do better and faster. The secret to success in developing new technology for business is creating technology that grows with and adapts to business, rather than technology that swiftly becomes obsolete and requires business to adapt to it.
Businesses didn’t abandon their manual spreadsheets until the new, electronic versions not only performed the required functions quickly, easily, and accurately; but also retained the “look and feel” of the paper behemoths they were replacing. At one point, in the 1980s, you could purchase “spring kits” for early desktop computer keyboards in order to give the “finger interface” more of a typewriter feel.
Online shopping really began to take hold when customers were able to “see” the items and get fast, reliable delivery information. Businesses were soon able to apply their marketing know-how to drive new and recurring customers to their web stores. In short, industry and the marketplace love technology and innovation, but successful innovations should seek to speed up and improve the way tasks are accomplished rather than changing the nature of the task itself. Realizing this is the core concept behind future-proofing technological innovation and ensuring the successful adoption of new concepts.
We are now amid a digital revolution in which technology is evolving at a rate never before experienced by mankind. The concept that technology is obsolete before it is implemented is now so jaded that it, itself, is an obsolete notion. It is imperative that advances in technology are developed with the past, present, and future in mind. Today’s new products must be able to allow the user to do what they have previously done, but better, yet intuitive enough to allow it to seamlessly integrate with existing technologies without disruption of operations. In addition, today’s new technology must have an eye to the future and be designed to expand and adapt to technologies and applications yet to be devised.
Some good examples of product families that have achieved success over several product generations, due in part to this design philosophy, are the “Director” industrial communication processors, and “Watchdog” cathodic protection monitoring systems from Elecsys. The precursors of both of these product families came to Elecsys through acquisitions many years ago. A major feature of the Director product line is its ability to integrate old field equipment (RTUs, PLCs, sensors, etc.) with cutting-edge field equipment and data acquisition systems utilizing the latest protocols, communication paths, and data security applications. Mirroring one of its primary application features, the Director also has been able to evolve through several product generations over the years with current models now using state of the art processors and electronic technology. These current models work alongside models from several generations back that have been enabled with current features allowing functions originally not available to be performed by the legacy equipment. Likewise, as technological advances have been incorporated into the Watchdog product family, older monitor systems from the product group have been enabled with new features to allow them to keep up with the ever-changing demands of the marketplace. Additionally, the newest models in both of these product groups have been designed with adaptation and future incorporation of emerging technologies in mind.
No modern industrial electronic device or platform will fulfill the continuously evolving demands of the industry forever. But one feature that industry most assuredly demands is that equipment is designed for decades of service as opposed to years of service. Industries will always try to incorporate cutting-edge technology in a never-ending quest to stay one or two steps ahead of the competition. The focus is on innovations and advancements in electronic technologies in the pursuit to discover the next “game-changer”. Technology companies will continue to strive to manifest the dream of the “Industrial Internet of Things” and the connected enterprise. Acceptance and adaptation of new technologies will be more effective and successful if the innovators of emerging technologies focus on future-proofing technological advancements, and adapting technology to the industry, rather than requiring the industry to adapt to the technology.
We want to remind you of the impending sunset of the 3G cellular network in the United States. For customers with products using AT&T modems, the AT&T 3G service will be phased out February, 2022. For Verizon customers, the sunset occurs in December, 2022.
If you are an end user or integrator who has installed an Elecsys unit with a 3G modem and have not already done so, we highly encourage you to contact us immediately to discuss an upgrade to a 4G modem for continued cellular service.
Feel free to reach out to us about 4G modems, upcoming projects, or any other sales needs. We are excited and eager to serve you this year and, as always, we appreciate your trust in us.