AT&T is preparing to eliminate its entire 2G network by 2017, according to a recent quarterly filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. The spectrum used by the old 2G network, called EDGE, will be repurposed for 3G and 4G users.
Like Sprint, which is shutting down its old iDEN network, AT&T is ditching its 2G network due to an impending spectrum shortage. According to its 10-Q report (page 21), AT&T plans to eventually redeploy it for use on next-gen mobile broadband networks.
As of June 30, 2012, just about one-third of AT&T's smartphone subscribers were using a "4G-capable device," and because of these types of devices, the demand for more wireless broadband connections is increasing at a rate greater than is manageable.
In the same time period, approximately 12% of AT&T's post-paid customers were using 2G handsets. AT&T expects to fully discontinue 2G service by approximately January 1, 2017. During that time, it will actively work with its customers to migrate them to 3G and 4G phones.
The company said it would monitor the expense of migrating those customers to 3G and 4G devices, but does not expect this transition to have a material impact on its operating results.
"We intend to redeploy spectrum currently used for basic 2G services to support more advanced mobile Internet services on our 3G and 4G networks. We will manage this process consistent with previous network upgrades and will transition customers on a market-by-market basis from our Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) networks (referred to as 2G networks) to our more advanced 3G and 4G networks," AT&T's SEC filing says.
The long goodbye isn't necessarily by choice. "People may have commitments to those 2G networks and AT&T doesn't want to be accused of taking away a critical device for those who depend on 2G cell phones and don't want to upgrade," said Ken Dulaney, research vice president with Gartner.
The 2G holdouts, like the few AOL dialup customers that remain, may be senior citizens living on a tight budget or possibly people in outlying areas that don't' have much or any 3G coverage. And then there's the luddite types.
"It's like with digital TV and the digital to analog converter boxes. Some people just don't want to buy a new TV," said Dulaney.