2G switch-off drives innovation

By Michael Doherty, General Manager, CellOPark
Monday, 20 February, 2017

2G switch-off drives innovation

The demise of the 2G phone networks provides an opportunity for local governments to bring parking into the 21st century.

The 2G communications system has reached the end of its life. Telstra has already shut off its network and Optus will shutter its in April 2017. Telsyte reports this will make approximately 500,000 to 700,000 mobile phones effectively redundant.

However, it’s not the redundant mobiles that governments and local councils need to worry about. They’re just the tip of the iceberg.

The 2G system has been used to communicate with many different devices, including vending machines, ATMs, tracking devices and parking meters. When the 2G networks are no more, councils will potentially be up for many thousands or even millions of dollars to update such equipment.

One of the most prominent devices using the 2G network is the parking meter. 2G was introduced into parking meters in order to support credit card payments and provide additional convenience for motorists and parking managers. From there, the technology continued to evolve — from maintenance and enforcement notifications to inventory management and pay-by-SMS — with the network supporting communications to and from the parking meters.

So, what happens when 2G is switched off? Will these machines still function? The answer, unsurprisingly, is no. Without the ability to communicate, credit card payments cannot be taken, the machines will need to be checked regularly to ascertain when they need to be emptied and any additional functionality, such as SMS payments, will not work. There’s not an easy fix either. Councils and parking operators will have to decide whether to upgrade the modems to 3G/4G, replace the meters or implement entirely new technology.

This has left councils scrambling to upgrade or replace their meters. The City of Townsville has approved funding of $577,500 to upgrade 75 parking machines in the CBD to 3G, as well as completely replacing the other 56 machines still on the old network.

But is this the right approach? Or is this just a short-term stopgap until the next network switch-off?

Upgrading or replacing meters would seem like a popular choice. It also seems like a simple answer — out with the old and in with the new. But is it that cost effective? Will it provide a futureproof solution and prevent an ongoing hardware upgrade cycle?

Parking meters have an average lifespan of 5 to 10 years. Can we say the 3G or 4G networks will be available for that long? The pace of technological change is hitting unprecedented levels and it wouldn’t be surprising if we see these newer networks superseded before the meters need upgrading again.

Even upgrading modems isn’t cheap or easy — it comes with many complications that inevitably add further cost. For instance, having a more powerful modem means the meters’ batteries will also need upgrading.

So completely replacing or even upgrading these machines is an expensive, ‘short term’ solution. Additionally, these new machines barely add any further functionality to the user. They are still the same old, hard-wired, static machines, which haven’t really changed since the 1950s.

A futureproof approach

With the proliferation of smartphones and a greater understanding of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, new smart parking solutions are coming to the fore. One of the biggest shake-ups is the fact we no longer need parking meters.

Today, local councils and governments can instead turn to smart mobile parking platforms, such as CellOPark, which not only futureproof parking but offer greater convenience to motorists and reduce the costs associated with parking for councils and government. These systems utilise the most recent mobile telecommunications network (4G/LTE) to manage, validate and enforce parking, as well as link up with other contemporary systems.

A modern parking meter in a car park

A modern 'smart' parking meter.

These smart mobile parking platforms not only futureproof parking but are also significantly more cost effective. As they are entirely software based, there is no need for hardware or machinery. This removes the costs associated with maintenance, physical upgrades of machines or other related hardware costs.

It also means motorists no longer have to find a meter and purchase a paper ticket. Instead, users simply register their vehicle and payment information on the mobile platform, which enables them to start and stop parking sessions as needed, via the app, online or over the phone. The technology reminds users when their parking spot is about to expire or if they have forgotten to end their session.

It also provides councils with additional capabilities to further enhance the parking experience for motorists. This includes data analytics on parking use, which enables a greater understanding of local parking behaviour and allows for improved planning.

Additionally, it can integrate with a number of other new parking technologies, including licence plate recognition (LPR), pay-by-plate machines and vPermits, enabling councils to implement dynamic pricing, for example.

Best of all is the capital expenditure to implement these systems can be completely eliminated and operational expenditure is significantly reduced. No more having to pay upwards of $500,000 to upgrade tired hardware. No more hardware maintenance costs. No more tickets. Just a simpler, more efficient and convenient way to manage their parking facilities.

Park that idea

It’s time local governments started to look towards contemporary technology to futureproof parking facilities. Typical local government procurement processes for parking technology see equipment replaced at a frequency of between 5 and 10 years. Compare this with the average smartphone tenure of only two years and there is a compelling argument to start scaling back the deployment of these expensive roadside strong boxes and let motorists enjoy the convenience of paying for parking using their smartphones. Smartphones that are increasingly becoming a part of the average commute thanks to Bluetooth and cars with connected app features built in.

As such, the 2G switch-off shouldn’t be seen as an inconvenience for local governments. Instead, it should be seen as an opportunity to bring parking into the 21st century, using the new technologies, networks and software available today.

Old parking meter image courtesy KOMUnews under CC. Other images supplied.

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