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AT&T Wireless Networking Businesses Cellphones Communications

AT&T Killing Its 2G Network By 2017 102

The Wall Street Journal reports that AT&T has plans to shut down its 2G network by January 1, 2017. Roughly 12% of its contact wireless customers — 8.4 million people — have 2G handsets, and the company plans to gradually move them to devices running on more modern networks. "The timeline for the 2G shutdown was made in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday. An AT&T spokesman said the company no longer sells 2G handsets to contract or prepaid customers. Along with phones, the company does have some other devices connected to its 2G networks, but it also expects that they will transition to more modern technology in coming years. As the carriers deal with ever increasing data usage on their networks, they also are facing a spectrum shortage to carry all the traffic. Shutting down legacy networks is one part of the plan, along with acquiring new spectrum and finding innovative ways to use unused airwaves."
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AT&T Killing Its 2G Network By 2017

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    GSM is dead. Finally.

    • by sarysa ( 1089739 )
      I thought CDMA was the one people were rooting to go. I have a CDMA device but I recognize that it's essentially like the Imperial measurement system.
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        CDMA is all that is modern with cell phones. GSM is a dead technology. What people call 3G GSM is actually CDMA (WCDMA). LTE/4G is based on CDMA.

        • IPv6 is based off of IPv4, also... about as much as LTE/4G is based on CDMA.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            "CDMA" stands for Code Division Multiple Access, which has been used for pretty much every modern cellular technology (the alternative for mobile handsets being time division).

            It also has an old, obsolete cellular network protocol named after it.

            • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

              And "GSM" stands for Global System for Mobile Telecommunications, which has many versions. The AT&T "2G" is one of these, but so is their "3G" and their "4G."


              • Re:RIP GSM (Score:5, Funny)

                by imbusy ( 1002705 ) on Friday August 03, 2012 @06:16PM (#40873551)
                Yes, I understand now, that I understand nothing about mobile standards.
                • by Anonymous Coward
                • Re:RIP GSM (Score:5, Informative)

                  by downhole ( 831621 ) on Friday August 03, 2012 @10:20PM (#40875065) Homepage Journal

                  Felt like doing my best at a mobile tech summary, and here seems as good a place as any:

                  One common mix-up is between air interfaces and complete cellular systems. CDMA and TDMA are both types of air interfaces - how the phone and the tower actually communicate with each other. CDMA is also used to refer to a complete cellular system which was originally based on the CDMA air interface. GSM also refers to a complete cellular system, whose original incarnation, usually known as 2G, was based on a TDMA air interface. Near as I can tell, it's pretty much universally known that CDMA air interfaces are vastly more efficient than TDMA, but the actual cellular systems have leapfrogged other a bunch of times.

                  I think GSM started out doing data on a separate TDMA frequency called GPRS, which worked, but was pretty slow and inefficient. CDMA started doing data over it's same frequencies, which was a bit faster and much more efficient. Then GSM came up with EDGE to improve speed, and then CDMA came up with CDMA2000, and then GSM switched to WCDMA/UTMS, which actually used a CDMA air interface, and CDMA switched to EVDO, reaching the peak of 3G. LTE is the next-gen air interface, using a OFDM air interface and otherwise is based on the GSM system, and as far as I can tell, everybody is switching to it. Hopefully, in 5-10 years or so, all the carriers worldwide will use LTE and all of the phones will have LTE basebands that cover all of the frequencies everybody is using, and you'll be able to take any device anywhere in the world and use it.

                  For various marketing reasons that don't make much objective sense, most of the world ended up standardizing on GSM long ago and only a few countries used systems based on the original CDMA technology, which is why if you have a CDMA phone, you're pretty much boned on international roaming.

                  And the AndroidFormums post that the AC below me posted is a rip-off of this USS Clueless post: [] which does have a really good explanation of why CDMA is much better than TDMA.

                  • Re:RIP GSM (Score:4, Insightful)

                    by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @12:36AM (#40875593)

                    "For various marketing reasons that don't make much objective sense, most of the world ended up standardizing on GSM long ago"

                    No, it makes a lot of objective sense. The single great thing about GSM... is removable SIMs. So you don't HAVE to roam... you just pop in a new SIM.

                    • And the other advantage is that you can change phones at will with GSM/UMTS, and you can't easily with CDMA/IS-95/EvDO/etc. If I'm going somewhere where I don't want to risk damaging my fancy Android or iOS phone, I can throw my SIM into an older, cheaper phone and still have telephone service. With the competing standard I have to call my provider and they might charge me for the privilege.

                      It also makes it nearly impossible for cellular carriers to prohibit you from bringing your own device. Imagine if

                    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

                      Looks at friend's CDMA phone... nope, can't switch carriers. Rather, you CAN switch to another carrier, who will promptly not offer your phone anything but 911 service.

                      SIM cards are useful because they are the device that is registered with the network, NOT your phone. I can take a SIM from anywhere, put it in any GSM phone, and it works. And no, you don't have to power down or reboot to do it. No need to contact either carrier, bring in your phone, let them see your phone (and claim that it won't work

                    • Well damn, you have enough interesting content to make me break my usual rule of not responding to ACs, or at least not getting into debates with them.

                      Interesting that CDMA tech can do that, but I've never heard of anybody actually using it. I guess the carriers don't exactly encourage it.

                      Storing contact on SIM cards really takes me back; I don't think I've used that in a very long time, if ever. They can do it, but it's so primitive now - just a name and a phone number per entry. Even my old Symbain smartp

                • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

                  Don't worry about it. The AC is doing his best to confuse everybody.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              Time Division is what AT&T is shutting down. GSM uses TDMA.

            • Re:RIP GSM (Score:4, Informative)

              by frieko ( 855745 ) on Friday August 03, 2012 @08:42PM (#40874527)
              Interestingly the one thing that LTE doesn't inherit from WCDMA is the CDMA-based air interface. LTE uses OFDM, which is a radical departure from CDMA. OFDM uses a drastically slower symbol rate to reduce the effects of echoing (multipath), but then makes up for the reduced capacity by adding thousands of narrowly-spaced carriers. Because combating multipath is the main limiting factor in practical wireless the overall efficiency is drastically increased.
            • by afidel ( 530433 )

              There's also OFDM which is used for WiMax and LTE.

          • by pbjones ( 315127 )

            you are mixing stuff up, very badly. '4G' LTE is an overall product, CDMA or WCDMA is a only a wireless system.

        • LTE is not CDMA. LTE is OFDM which is FDMA/TDMA in combination, very much like GSM. GSM in its simplest form have communication between handset and base-station on only one carrier while LTE use multiple sub-carriers but it is nothing like the CDMA mess of IS95/WCDMA.
      • Well, the GP is several decades too early.

        State of mainstream Western mobile technologies:

        1. There are virtually no analog systems running any more
        2. D-AMPS (so-called "TDMA") is dead
        3. cdmaOne/cdma2000 (so-called "CDMA") is beginning a slow process of being phased out in favor of LTE, though no operators have announced actual plans (as in deadlines) - as yet - to discontinue it. I'd be surprised if Sprint and Verizon didn't have at least a limited cdma2000 service in ten years, though in twenty I think it'll b
    • by Anonymous Coward

      3G and 4G have a poor coverage and reception

      • Yeah, so are they going to stop proving coverage in rural areas? Or maybe they already have skipped that. 3G has very short range and 4G pretty much has no range. Only 2G works for giving coverage to large thinly populated areas.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think people are completely uninformed about this.

      AT&T was calling GSM "3G" when they brought it in, but then started calling it 2.5G.

      "2G" GSM is all TDMA, AT&T's actual 2G system was the PCS TDMA.
      UMTS aka WCDMA is not the same CDMA that Verizon uses for their 2G network

      At any rate, most of the people still using "2G" GSM are prepaid, and fixed-installations like security alarms (which actually send DTMF tones, not data) and car phone systems. (Much like when the Analog system was shut down, it wa

  • Oh, well. I guess I'll have to join the 21st Century, like everyone else.

    • Me too but I'm not concerned. By the time 2017 rolls-around and I am forced to give-up my cheap Nokia phone, my ISP virginmobile will probably be selling 4G-enabled smartphones on the same $5/month plan.

      More likely the 10-year-old battery will stop working loooong before 2017 gets here. That's what happened to my old 1G analog phone..... it would not hold a charge any longer than 5 minutes (just long enough to say "Thanks. I'll call you back"). I had already upgraded before the 1G standard had been phas

      • by afidel ( 530433 )

        VM already has a 4G phone, the HTC EVO V. It uses the legacy WiMax, not LTE, but it's 4G. My guess is they are offering WiMax on VM because they have to finish out a contract with Clear and so as they move their higher RPU users off WiMax to LTE they might as well get some revenue from the WiMax spectrum they're still paying for.

    • Fret not, you'll probably be able to get 3g call only phones by then and you have 5 years to come to terms with it.
    • by Cramer ( 69040 )

      Yep... forced to use "modern" battery eating technology. I still carry around my 2G/EDGE phone because it lasts weeks on a charge. (2wks with BT enabled, 4wks without) It's replacement (ATT/Sony W518) won't last a week. The iPhone (3GS?) I was sent when the old 2G phone went nuts, wouldn't last 3 *DAYS* without being charged; and if I actually used it for apps, then it wouldn't last a day.

      (Yes, the 2G phone will eat it's battery if you take it to fringe area, like, Carolina Motorsports Park. :-))

  • by Art Popp ( 29075 ) * on Friday August 03, 2012 @05:54PM (#40873353)

    Spectral efficiency in symbols per Hz:

    2G .45
    LTE 16.15

    So we ~ 32 times as much data out of the 2G spectrum if we get people and devices to upgrade.

    • by F34nor ( 321515 )

      I can't wait for the efficiency to be paired with the better penetration of the lower frequency.

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        I can't wait for the efficiency to be paired with the better penetration of the lower frequency.

        it's great. it means 3g connectivity in backwoods. most of the summer cottages I've been to in finland lately have had 3g coverage through the 900mhz band being rolled out for 3g now. some finnish operators are going to switch gsm off sometime in 2015 (it's deployed now in 1800mhz).

    • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 )

      Given the timelines that sounds like it'll be 2020 before they can roll anything out in quantity. If they shut the network down in 2017, which will probably face squabbling and delays, 2018 and then start rolling out new technology on top of the old network it'll be tough to turn on something new before 2019.

    • by tsotha ( 720379 )
      When I went through the LTE spec it was the first time in a very long time I looked at something technical and thought "this is amazingly clever!"
      • How so? It's just OFDM, much like 802.11A/G/N and DSL. The technique isn't really new - it's just that we're starting to get more efficient chips which can run a continuous FFT while still getting reasonable battery life.

  • I wonder how much 2G equipment is out there. A few years ago I just deployed a 2G only data acquisition device (it was cheaper and had lower power requirements than the 3G device). It has very low bandwidth needs, a few hundred bytes every hour, so even 2G is more than fast enough.

    I doubt this device will still be running 5 years from now, so maybe this shutdown really won't have much impact.

    • lot of embedded 2G in places where they don't want to spend money to upgrade things. places where it's not as easy to switch as dropping the old phone in a bucket and being handed a shiny new phone.

      • by PPH ( 736903 )
        So the cops will have to sneak up and crawl under my car some night to swap out their GPS tracker.
    • A lot. At least in Europe. GSM is considered a default. Mobile credit-card devices for bars and restaurants uses GSM, the devices hasn't changed in 10 years and they have no reason to. Also industrial montoring and any other devices designed to only send SMS's, and.. wait for it.. fire and burglary alarms. The later used to be fixed wire only, but the ones that are mobile uses GSM for better coverage and reliabilty.

    • by fa2k ( 881632 )

      In addition to what has been mentioned: smart electricity/gas meters (don't know for a fact that they don't use 3G), remote controlled switches, e.g. for turning on the heating in a cabin.

  • Just Peachy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kf4ebp2 ( 2700293 ) on Friday August 03, 2012 @06:09PM (#40873479)
    I have been using a dual sim GSM quad band for travel from the US to Germany. Looks like I'll have to carry two phones again. :(
    • Re:Just Peachy (Score:4, Informative)

      by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <> on Friday August 03, 2012 @06:56PM (#40873863)

      I have been using a dual sim GSM quad band for travel from the US to Germany. Looks like I'll have to carry two phones again. :(

      Is that "GSM" as in "it only does TDMA, not any flavor of CDMA including those used for UMTS in Germany", so that it won't work on AT&T once they shut down 2G and wouldn't work on any 3G or later networks in Europe either, only on European 2G networks, or "GSM" as in "it only supports the GSM/3GPP protocol stack, but handles both 2G and 3G", so that it'll continue to work on AT&T?

      Or is it that the only frequencies it works on with AT&T are their 2G frequencies, so that, whilst it might continue to work fine in Europe if it handles their 3G frequencies, it won't work with AT&T in the US once AT&T stops using those frequencies for 2G unless AT&T switches them to services that your phone also supports?

    • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

      I agree - people seem to be missing out on the fact that 2G is the least-common denominator. Virtually all GSM phones support it. Very few phones support 3G+ universally, because there are a bunch of different standards, and various carriers use various ones, and each uses phones that support their standards only.

      This move will likely have little impact on AT&T customers, but what about people who travel and need to roam?

  • Strowger switch technology - non of this gosh darned commie euro 3 and 4g:-)
  • Not a good idea... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Targon ( 17348 ) on Friday August 03, 2012 @06:19PM (#40873565)

    Considering the AT&T network still has a fair number of 2G areas, and many places have it where you get better service quality with 2G compared to 3G, I do NOT want to see 2G get shut down for quite a while. When AT&T actually updates their network, then they can shut down 2G.

    • I've noticed that with my Kindle. There are some areas where 3G can not be obtained, but the 2G Edge technology works just fine. Presumably when they put 4 or 5G where the 2G used to be, they signals will reach farther (since they are lower frequency).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Usually when they take down the old antennas, they put up new antennas to keep the lease. So as they turn off the old network they're putting up the new network, that way they can keep the leasing space.

      • by yuhong ( 1378501 )

        Yep, five years is plenty of time.

      • by afidel ( 530433 )

        It's highly unlikely they'll actually replace antennas unless they need to for MIMO reasons. Generally when the providers upgrade a tower it's all done from the ground by switching out cards and/or software.

    • That was my thought. There literally are no 3G towers in my area from *ANY* provider. Verizon claims they are bringing one in 'spring 2012', but that has yet to materialize. I guess this gives us a timeline for 1 of two things:
      1: AT&T's national coverage map is going to shrink massively in 2017 2. AT&T gets off its ass and upgrades a LOT of towers. i'm going to Occams razor that one to the cheeper solution.
      • by tsotha ( 720379 )
        Verizon is putting up a new 3G tower in your area? That seems hard to believe.
        • they 'say' they are going to put up a tower, 'spring 2012'. seeing as spring ended quite a while ago, there is slight difference between what they say, and what they do.
          • by tsotha ( 720379 )
            Verizon's big push now is to build out its 4G network, because LTE has is much more efficient from a bandwidth perspective. I would be surprised if they didn't just skip 3G in your area.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        i'm going to Occams razor that one

        Well, you can certainly verb a noun.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by adler187 ( 448837 )

      Your comment makes no sense, since reusing those frequencies for more efficient newer technologies (4G) will improve their network.

      The reason that 2G has better signal quality than 3G in your area is that the 3G signal is overloaded. Since 3G phones will prioritize 3G signals over 2G signals (since they are more efficient and capable of more bandwidth) and most people have 3G phones, most phones are on 3G signals.

      AT&T are in a bind right now (as are most other cell providers). More people are trying to

      • Or putting up more towers, and shrinking the "cells" that the sites cover. More towers = more frequent reuse of frequencies = denser service and more bandwidth. But it costs a lot more money and takes a lot more work than just turning off the 2G service.

    • Time was when you had to rent a phone. That phone would probably last you 20 years though. Now you have to buy a phone and since that phone is actually a computer it's subject to Moore's Law and will be practically useless within 3 years. AT&T learned quite a few things when their monopoly was broken up in the '80s and since that time they've worked very diligently to put it back together. Unfortunately most of their infrastructure seems to date back to their telegraph days.
      • My three and a half year 'dumb phone', I'm typing this, begs to differ. Runs Opera Mini, midpSSH, Facebook Java application, Google Maps, and many more. It can make calls, SMS, email (POP3/IMAP). Battery still holds a day. All that on a dumb phone...
  • by jgotts ( 2785 ) <> on Friday August 03, 2012 @06:30PM (#40873657)

    What I like about T-Mobile is when I go into a rural area, I'm lucky to get GSM, let alone 3G. T-Mobile even drops out along the interstates. 3G only works in certain areas of large cities and along some major highways but not even all interstates.

    Which makes it very difficult to bother me on vacation.

  • In many places in my neck of the woods I cannot get 3G and my phone has to fall back to EDGE in order for me to have any data whatsoever. So, if by discontinuing EDGE they mean they are going to increase their 3G/4G coverage then that's just great but, more than likely, that is not what this means.

    Not that any of this matters to me anymore because my next phone will be on Verizon's network. AT&T's coverage is truly pathetic where I live. I've been with AT&T for 4 years and the same dead spots tha

  • I no longer have to worry about my crappy call-dropping 2G coverage since it has since been replaced by my crappy call-dropping 3G coverage which is now being replaced by my crappy call-dropping 4G coverage.

    • I no longer have to worry about my crappy call-dropping 2G coverage since it has since been replaced by my crappy call-dropping 3G coverage which is now being replaced by my crappy call-dropping 4G coverage.

      Not only that but with a larger phone and less battery life. Progress is awesome.

  • It would seem (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jxander ( 2605655 )

    We don't like AT&T around here? Just trying to get a feel for the general zeitgeist. Is it due to their original iPhone monopoly, and thus tied to Apple-hate?

    As best I can tell, if AT&T was a good guy, the headline would read something more like "AT&T plans to upgrade all phones to higher standards." But as they're apparently bad guys, they're planning to kill off a vital service!

    • by afidel ( 530433 )

      Uh, have you had any dealings with AT&T? There's a reason their 1983-1999 logo was nicknamed the death star.

      • When it was called Cingular, I had 4 bars almost everywhere. When they changed their name to AT&T my signal in rural areas dropped to 2. I still get service where people with Sprint or Verizon get none, but the lower signal causes dropped calls. I guess they saved money by turning all the towers down.

        Another reason why people hate AT&T.
        • It's possible that this had to do with the end of a sharing agreement they had with Voicestream (now T-Mobile). I know my T-Mobile service suffered when the AT&T roaming was reduced.

    • I'd chalk it up to the all carriers suck mindset. Any wireless carrier you can name, you can find lots and lots of people who hate their guts, usually for reasons that don't really justify the hate. I switched off of AT&T to Verizon because at the time AT&T didn't have any good Android phones, now I just switched back to AT&T (well, a prepaid SIM card on AT&T's network) because I wanted a Galaxy Nexus so that I could use stock android and get updates right away and Verizon screwed theirs up

  • Nothing's stopping them, now that the iPhone killed their 3G network.
  • Not to offer them 3G or 4G service mind you, but to move them all over to Sprint's for shit zero-G network.

  • Yippee! I assume this means that by January 2017 I'll have 3G service at my house! AT&T has been non-responsive to this question, but now I have an answer.

  • Its not even that you can't get 3G service sometimes... It can be that 3G service is overloaded.

    One example is at outdoor concerts... Where suddenly tens of thousands of people show up. The 3G tower in place just can't handle it. No calls, no texts, no data... But full bars.

    Switch to 2G because everyone is on 3G, and everything works. Sure data's not fast, but you can send texts and make calls.

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