AT&T Wireless has begun retiring its old 2G network, which is almost a decade old, freeing up spectrum that will be used by its 3G and growing 4G network.
The company has begun sending letters to customers with 2G devices, which are quite old at this point, warning them that they might lose coverage partly or entirely in certain areas. The customers are given an option to upgrade to a low-end 3G-capable phone.
2G vs. 3G vs. 4G
AT&T uses both 850MHz and 1900Mhz bands for both its 2G and 3G networks. The company plans to phase out 2G in the 1900MHz band but will continue to use its 850MHz band for the GSM and EDGE services, retaining at least some older 2G technology. EDGE is an upgraded version of 2G, sometimes called 2.5G, and is included in the ITU’s definition of 3G.
AT&T would not say what the plan is for the soon-to-be freed up 1900MHz spectrum, but it will likely be used for LTE-based 4G, since 3G already runs in that band. The carrier is spending billions to build out a LTE service as well as update its HSPA+ service, both of which are called 4G services.
2G is used mostly in the U.S. and Europe. The emerging mobile markets largely skipped 2G, with its minimal data rates, and went straight to 3G for their deployment. With this announcement, AT&T is the first American carrier to retire its 2G network.
And it’s about time, said Ken Dulaney, research vice president for mobility with Gartner. “We have to move off 2G. Spectrum is scarce. It’s no different than shutting down analog TV to make way for digital TV. The carriers will help those stragglers off 2G with promotions, free phones, but they have to move off,” he said.
By freeing up the 1900Mhz spectrum, AT&T will get more bandwidth per unit of spectrum, which benefits all of its 3G and 4G users and keeps prices down. All wireless providers have a limited amount of frequency allocation, which means you can only get so many bits through that bandwidth with 2G. Freeing that up means more room for 3G without needing more hardware, he said.