3G is being phased out – why does that matter for solar?

Updated

Solar panels covering a modern roof

The 3G modems that connect with SolarEdge and Enphase inverters will need to be replaced. Image source: SolarEdge

3G, or the third generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology, has passed its prime and is being phased out. This may seem like a minor inconvenience if you associate 3G with cell phone service only.

Unfortunately, it turns out that several devices, from fire alarms to solar panel technology, use wireless mobile telecommunications.

If you own solar panels, should you be worried about the 3G phase-out? Probably not, but there are a few key points you’ll need to know. Let’s dive in.

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Key takeaways

  • 3G telecommunications technology is being phased out which means that a lot of devices will be out of commission.
  • If you monitor the performance of your panels with an app, you are using an internet-connected modem. If it’s 3G, it will need to be replaced.
  • If you do not replace your modem, you can miss out on incentives like net metering or SRECs.

On this page

    Why are 3G networks being phased out?

    Like most things, when there is a new and improved version, the old version is replaced – and 3G is no exception. Before this, 3G replaced 1G and 2G – with each version of telecommunications technology building on the last.

    For example, 1G only supported calls but 5G can support video communications at a faster speed than 4G. 3G is simply no longer practical with the emergence of 4G and 5G.

    This can cause headaches for people who have technology that still works but operates on 3G. Unfortunately, in most cases, you cannot simply move your gadget to 4G. It needs to be replaced with a new version of said gadget.

    What technology will be impacted by 3G shutdowns?

    Fortunately for consumers, there are not many gadgets that will need replacing. On the end of the low stake is cell phones. If your cell phone only supports 3G technology, it’s time to replace it.

    As gas-powered and electric vehicles become more and more technologically based with GPS tracking and driver-assist technology, this technology will improve with each telecommunications upgrade. So unfortunately for car owners whose cars connect to 3G, many of the digital perks they have come to rely on, such as OnStar emergency communication, will not work unless you upgrade your system. Home alarm systems, fire alarms, and medical devices will also need replacing.

    How will the 3G network phase-out impact your 3G solar system?

    Unfortunately, this shutdown will be inconvenient for some solar owners.

    A challenging issue for solar owners is that if their meter and modems utilize 3G networks, they need to replace them with newer versions that utilize 4G or 5G. Unfortunately, there is a cost, and time waste, associated with buying new modems and meters every time there is a new upgrade in telecommunications technology.

    If your system does not rely on WiFi, you don’t need to worry. You do not technically need a modem to run your solar system. The modem simply provides internet access to your solar system for monitoring purposes, allowing it to provide real-time data on electricity production. You do not need this feature to generate electricity.

    If you do utilize a modem and you do not replace it with a 4G or 5G version, your solar panels will no longer be able to communicate their data. Meaning, you will not be able to see the electricity output from the panels or monitor the system's total production.

    There are many benefits of monitoring solar panels and battery performance. For instance, you can monitor panels to see if there is a decrease in energy production, indicating an issue with a panel. Or, you can see how much electricity is going to your solar battery for night use. If the 3G network is down, you are closed out from monitoring your solar system performance.

    While this might not seem like a major issue, it could cost you. You could miss valuable incentives and production credits like net metering and SRECs simply because your system is not tracking your solar panel electricity generation.

    How can you upgrade your modem?

    A modem is what connects the internet to your solar system via the solar inverter. Typically, the modem is provided by the company that supplied the inverter for your system. The two big names in the inverter world are Enphase and SolarEdge.

    Both companies should be in the process of contacting known customers that have 3G connectivity to warn them of the coming change. If you have not received an email, you can contact the company that installed your solar panels. They can help you upgrade your system to the newest modem. Unfortunately, modems are not typically covered under warranties so you will need to pay for the cost of the new modem and the installation costs.

    If you have a SolarEdge inverter and modem, you can go to this site to schedule a modem upgrade. If you have an Enphase system, more information on replacing an Enphase modem can be found here. If you are not sure which brand you have, contact your solar installer for help.

    If you love a DIY project, you can install a modem on your own, but it is usually best to rely on a professional for help.

    Why don’t devices connect to 4G automatically?

    If only it could be that easy. While technically your devices could still connect to the internet via 3G, they just will not have access to all of the 4G or 5G-connected benefits. With 3G being phased out, all other components, like your solar monitoring app, will be upgraded to 4G or 5G and no longer be able to connect to 3G.

    Unfortunately, old devices cannot just switch to new telecommunications technology. They were built to work with 3G, which will no longer exist.

    This is not the last time new telecommunications technology will come about in a relatively short amount of time, so new devices will need to be bought again and again.

    How can I make sure my solar system is up to date?

    Your solar installer or the manufacturer of your panels, battery, modems, and solar inverters should keep you up to speed on the upgrade your system will need over its lifetime. Like many things these days, your solar system is a piece of technology that needs to be monitored for newer, better versions of the pieces within it.

    Your solar panels will still work if they are not connected to the internet. So technically, you do not need a new modem. However, if you want to monitor your system and keep watch of your panels' performance, a new upgraded wireless modem is necessary.

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     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Ana Almerini

    Web Content Specialist

    Ana is a content specialist at SolarReviews. She uses her experience in marketing and knowledge from her master's in climate communications to research and review the solar industry.

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