back to article AT&T to mothball 2G network by 2017

In its latest filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, US telecommunications giant AT&T has said it plans to sunset its 2G wireless network by January 1, 2017, with the goal of reclaiming spectrum for 3G/4G service. "Due to substantial increases in the demand for wireless service in the United States, AT&T is facing …

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Much needed

Was in NYK recently and yes, the 3G is a steaming pile. If thats all people know, no wonder they think it's the phones that are the problem rather than the network.

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Meh

The 12%

The 12% are probably the most loyal customers AT&T have. Will they provide them with a free handset when the 2G switch off occurs.

Nope they will most likely stuff them into either paying more and paying for a handset or wave goodbye.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The 12%

*sigh* I'm on AT&T and I still use a 2.5G feature phone on their network. I've had the phone for 4-years now, and while it is not the greatest phone in the world I like it well enough and it does what I really need it to do-- make phone calls. Also, since it is a Sony Ericsson "Walkman" phone I can also easily play my MP3 music on it if I choose to, which is pretty much the only other thing that I have ever used it for. I don't even have a data plan for it of any sort. I'm around computers all day-- I can pretty much get all of the Internet access that I could ever want that way. I've liked this phone well enough that I have already replaced the LCD screen on it twice after I accidentally cracked it on two separate occasions, and I have yet another spare brand new LCD screen on hand for it should I ever have the misfortune of cracking it again. In other words, I am more than content with my current phone, and I am not particularly impressed by the idea that I am going to be prevented from using it in the near future so that more smart phone users can simultaneously use Suri, Facetime, or Instagram.

Hopefully the "sunsetting" of AT&T's 2G network will occur closer to 2017 than earlier to give my phone a chance to die a natural death through some sort of not easily repairable hardware failure, as I don't want to be forced to buy a new phone while this one is still faithfully soldiering on and doing what I need it to do. I'm an out-of-work developer that is currently looking for work, and as a result disposable income is something that I just don't have right now. Upgrading to a new mobile phone just because AT&T wants me to is not an expense that I really want to have to deal with, and I could give a damn about AT&T's current bandwidth plight. If that sentiment puts me in some kind of fringe 12%, then so be it.

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Silver badge

Re: The 12%

Well, given the conditions of the phone market today, I wouldn't put it beyond AT&T to provide discounts to existing 2G customers. They can get nice economical 3G phones cheap (and there are increasing numbers of cheap 3G models out there now) or perhaps be tempted into a contracted 4G (up to them, but there are more options than you think because of the maturity of the market). And then there's the outside market. One nice thing about AT&T is they they actually use the same 3G frequencies that tend to be used internationally, so outsider 3G phones (like the venerable Nokia N95 I still own but have in mothballs) have a good chance of working. And given that the sunset isn't due to be complete for five years, I would dare say there will be even more cheap phones by then.

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Paris Hilton

Re: The 12%

At 12% we are definitely within the minority and in a business sense I believe we do actually represent a liability. I still have a couple of GSM and an EDGE phone on stand-by for when my more advanced phone takes a dump. Mind you, when I say "advanced" I speak of a Sony Ericsson C905a, which is not a smart phone but is at least 3G-capable. (And it has not crapped out once, though it is becoming physically well-worn.) But they are just that, backups and not primary use phones.

I can probably find similar arguments about the transition from AMPS to TDMA, TDMA to EDGE, and so on. Most arguments were about change itself, and I know I did not desire to purchase a replacement for my TalkTime 850 which worked just fine. The arguments did not appreciate that the movement from one technology to the other was between phones of equal reliability and operation. There were very basic phones tasked with very basic operations: making phone calls.

My concern is as mobile devices become "smarter" and the number of smarter phone users increase, so will the chances of being stranded without usable service. I am not aware of any smart-phone with a dumb-phone fall-back feature. That is, if a smart phone cannot boot due to file system corruption or a bad application, then the user is completely locked out of making a phone call. I ran into this problem with a phone loaded with too much media for its media database to handle: it took two boots and almost 20 minutes before the phone was usable. In an emergency situation this is not acceptable. But then, mobile phones are, IMO, by design supplemental to emergency situations not accessory.

Mobile phones have several inherent unreliability factors. While many of those factors are mitigated, making them more complex increases the impact of unreliability as well as introducing new ones. An increasing number of people are abandoning land lines for home service in favor of mobile phones, and for practical reasons. But in the event of all but the most devastating disasters I can pick up my copper service, hear a dial tone, and place a call to someone -- although, it is a bit more difficult to reach an operator in some areas.

I can bash my princess phone and still make a call. Try that with a 'Droid.

Paris, inherently unreliable princess.

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Re: Will they provide them with a free handset when the 2G switch off occurs

Surely, there are a lot of cheap Chineze phones below $100

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Meh

Why is the UK so far behind...?

Blimey, lets hope O2 don't turn off 2G, else 70% of the country wouldn't have a signal at all.

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WTF?

Upset Apple Again Or Why is the UK so far behind...?

If the older phones are going to be rendered useless by the damands of new devices, perhaps we will need a replacment system. How about public phone boxes or call offices?

Or would that dent the demand for apple devices? This appears to be we can't stand competition, just like they are claiming in the case with Samsung at the moment.

I do not want an automatic 'go flat phone' that needs to be within 50 feet of a power source all the time, sucks up data I do not want, runs up bills I do not need and cannot make or recieve calls when needed.

Oh progress - not.

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Meh

Re: Upset Apple Again Or Why is the UK so far behind...?

What's this got to do with Apple?

Or

Is it that chip you are carrying on your shoulder?

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Silver badge

Re: Upset Apple Again Or Why is the UK so far behind...?

Actually, this will affect Apple...a bit. Recall that the oldest iPhones only support EDGE, which is a 2G technology. That means a good number of very old iPhones will not longer be useable on the AT&T network once the sunset completes. Begs the question of just how many of those old iPhones are still in operation.

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@Charles9

EDGE is in fact 2.75G (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2.5G#2.75G_.28EDGE.29) and it allows for smth. like 250kbps.

P.S. I have Motorola StarTac GSM phone and it works just fine in Ukraine (and BTW it allows for on-the-run mini-SIM card switching without powering off the phone -- something that Apple iPhone "pioneered" in 2009).

P.P.S. The StarTac doesn't do GPRS at all, (EDGE even needs not apply).

P.P.P.S. Fuck you AT&T

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Re: @Charles9

The key point is that first digit: it's a 2, not a 3, and that's important. The .75 doesn't matter in case as EDGE uses the 2G frequencies (thus it's not a 3G tech), so if the 2G frequencies go, so does EDGE.

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Windows

Is it that chip you are carrying on your shoulder?

No. I think he's well-balanced.

He's got a chip on each shoulder.

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Boffin

Smart move

This is a smart move. Not only does it free up spectrum. But it also allows for faster service and better coverage for 3G/LTE. In the U.S they use 850/1900/1700/2100Mhz for 3G. I am not sure what is used for LTE besides 700Mhz.

I am expecting that carriers in Europe are going to start doing the same soon. They are having same issues with 3G and LTE in terms of spectrum usage.

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Re: Smart move

LTE is designed to use assorted frequencies. LTE frequencies are laid out in assorted bands. Verizon uses bands XII and XIII, AT&T uses band XVII. All of them are in the 700MHz range. There is also one unallocated band there being held by the FCC. Sprint's LTE has bands XXV and XXVI, which diverge (XXV is around 1.9GHz while XXVI is above the EU bands in the high 800MHz range). One other US carrier (Clearwire) has an allocation in Band XLI at around 2.5GHz. The EU has allocations on Band XX, at the 800MHz range., and at band XXXVIII, at around 2.6GHz.

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Re: Smart move

You are fucked by operators. Spectrum is not your fucking problem, it's operators' problem. They must preserve 2G compatibility at all costs and if they have no space for 3G/4G/5G/whatever, they fucking must auction it from OFCOM/USgov/etc at ther fucking own expence, not yours

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Silver badge

Re: Smart move

Is spectrum is the operator's problem, then it becomes your problem, too. Like it or not, spectrum is a limited resource. That's why government agencies tend to have the ultimate say in the spectrum within its airspace. It's like trying to cram a bus with more people when it's already over capacity (think third-word bus cramming in this case). You can't expand the bus, and you can't shrink the seats. So you either kick out the oldest riders or you don't go. When those are your two choices (stagnation or obsolescence), which would you choose?

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FAIL

re: Smart move

It's a smart move if 3G works. In my experience it doesn't on an extremely regular basis. Let's hope it works better in AT&T land than any of the UK networks (I've now tried them all!).

That said, we'll get to know because if it's as bad as I think it will be, then pretty much everyone will cancel their service. I'm pretty certain 2G is seriously propping up sales of 3G in this country.

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Boffin

Re: re: Smart move

The reason 3G works so bad in many areas is this. It has been oversold as a broadband solution to people. This means there are too few transmitters in the area and two few users. This is the reason where in many area mobile phone companies re-direct voice calls two 2G in areas with high data usage. I am not sure what 3G only mobile phone company do in this type of situation.

With LTE and 4G taking over as data service networks. The issue with 3G should soon resolve it self. At least I hope so.

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could be interesting trying this in the UK

..given that the majority of these "smart" utility meters being rolled out at great expense use GSM modems for communication IIRC.

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Very little 4G actually...

Actually, AT&T has very few owners of 4G phones, and very little 4G coverage. They actually do have a little bit of LTE coverage and some LTE devices out and about (they started rolling out LTE a matter of months ago). For the most part, they've just falsely claimed their 3G network and devices are "4G" -- they claim devices that support just 7.2mbps HSPA are "4G" now, and claim that 14.4mbps (and sometimes 7.2mbps!) HSPA are "4G". This is going to be so confusing when two AT&T customers can have "4G" phones, and one is getting like 50mbps and the other is getting like 5mbps, and it's like "Oh, actually, we have two seperate 4G networks" (instead of just admitting the 3G network is 3G).

T-Mobile also does this in the US.. but at least 1) They are only claiming their 42mbps HSPA+ areas are "4G" and 2) They don't plan to run LTE, so although their 4G claims are false they won't have the confusion of explaining they have 2 totally seperate 4G networks. That said, I don't know why they don't just flaunt raw speed (42mbps is fast and sounds good).

They (AT&T and T-Mobile) got into a panic to claim 4G after Verizon *actually* began to run 4G. They had LTE to over 200 million population by the end of 2011, and plan 260 million covered by end of 2012.

There's always been overlap in phone tech -- for the 1G tech, they eventually got ~9600bps or so data overlaid over the analog networks. For 2G, circuit switched data and early GPRS both were like 9600-14400bps or so. Nobody claimed that a analog system with CDPD was 2G, because there was no upgrade path left on it. CDMA 1X and EDGE (late-stage 2G technologies) got 144kbps and 220kbps, with UMTS (early 3G tech) getting just 384kbps (EVDO got 2.8mbps initially.). But, after people briefly claiming EDGE was 3G they stopped, because it's not, it had no upgrade path past 220kbps while HSPA and EVDO did. Similarly, HSPA can be bumped up to 42mbps or so, but there's no further upgrade path, while LTE (75mbps or so) does have planned upgrades.

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Gold badge

"Blimey, lets hope O2 don't turn off 2G, else 70% of the country wouldn't have a signal at all."

Verizon Wireless has essentially 100% of their network upgraded to 3G (3.1mbps EVDO) (there's a handful of non-3G sites showing on the coverage map in the deep desert, and I've read these are hard to run any data to; too far out for a microwave link, and burying 100 miles of copper or fiber through the desert would cost too much.) And probably about 33% (by coverage area, at least 75% by pouplation) covered by LTE.

AT&T? They probably are still about 1/3rd EDGE. Very little by population, this is rural coverage that AT&T just neglects year after year. Note, AT&T does have some 3G-only areas already -- these were areas they got from Alltel during the Alltel-Verizon merger where due to the 5mhz channel size of HSPA, they could either run a huge swath of GSM+EDGE but never have 3G, or run 3G but have 0mhz left over for GSM.

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I still hope my Sony VAIO UX380N survives by2017

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GSM is fairly critical infrastructure

I'm not sure about 2G networks in the US, but as least GSM/GPRS is still widely deployed for remote control systems. In fact even new systems start with GSM/GPRS since it's a _lot_ cheaper to implement than UMTS/WCDMA. While a 2G module will set you back about 10-30 Euros, a 3G will set you back at least 100 Euros, plus those often have higher integration costs.

Considering that most of those cases only need a few kilobytes a day, integrators are unlikely to choose 3G networks.

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>By comparison, only around 12 per cent of the carrier's monthly subscription customers (as opposed to prepaid customers) still use 2G handsets, making the spectrum AT&T has set aside for that service a growing liability.<

This is a bit of untruth. What you mean to say is that 12% of subscribers use phones that are limited to 2G. But even 3G and 4G phones are 2G capable.

Even 3G or 4G phones still make voice calls over 2G. Phones support multiple bands and multiple technologies. A 4G phone falls back to 3G in areas that have no 4G coverage, and to 2G when there is no 3G.

However, they ALL USE 2G for making voice calls. The carriers have billions invested in the 2G switches and infrastructure, and will HAVE TO USE THAT until 4G and VoLTE becomes ubiquitous. They are not going to remove any 2G equipment for some years, and even then only reduce capacity, not eliminate it. And with AT&T so far behind VzW in the LTE deployment, they will be supporting 2G for some time. Beyond 2017, I should think.

And another correction, T-mobile in the U.S. has committed to deploying LTE, although they haven't started yet.

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