We’ve been talking about it for a long while now. But, as of 2017, the talk has turned into reality.
No, I’m not referring to the impending presidency of businessman and reality show host Donald Trump. Rather, I’m referencing the fact that AT&T (News - Alert) has discontinued service on its 2G wireless network.
AT&T’s 2G network went dark just as the world was welcoming in the New Year on Jan. 1, John Donovan explained in a blog earlier this week. That was four years after the cellular service provider initially announced plans to sunset 2G.
“Prior to the shutdown, we communicated frequently with our customers about upgrading to newer technologies,” wrote Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president of AT&T Technology and Operators. “And we wanted it to be easy to do, so we offered discounts and free devices to eligible customers.”
The good news, as Donovan noted, is that AT&T’s 3G and 4G LTE (News - Alert) networks now cover 99 percent of Americans. Shutting down the 2G network also frees up spectrum for other things, like 5G, he added. (Of course, eliminating the 2G also means AT&T lowers its costs, because there’s one less network to maintain and manage.)
However, other sources in recent months have talked about the downside of AT&T’s 2G network shutdown. That includes the fact that many legacy connected devices (including Apple’s first generation iPhone and part of San Francisco’s public transportation system) have relied on 2G technology. As a result, the individuals and organizations that used those devices have been forced to abandon or upgrade their 2G units, or move to other network service providers.
Despite Donovan’s suggestion that AT&T give its 2G customers ample time to upgrade to a new system, a SFBay story published Jan. 6 indicates there were nonetheless some difficulties in the wake of the network shutdown. The story said shortly after the turn of the year the NextMuni system was having difficulty predicting accurate arrive times of Muni buses and trains.
“Data had been transmitting through NextMuni using a 2G network, which AT&T had deactivated because the technology is now outdated,” SFBay reported. “SFMTA officials said the deactivation happened sooner than expected so some Muni vehicles may not show up on NextMuni because they simply do not have the upgraded communications and monitoring system yet.”
The story explained that 70 percent of the system’s vehicles still have 2G technology in place. However, NextMuni vehicles from 2013 and later have newer systems, so didn’t experience these problems.
The first-generation iPhone (News - Alert) and some NextMuni vehicles are just a couple of examples of 2G devices that may be impacted by legacy network shut downs like the one by AT&T. A June 2015 story in IoT Evolution magazine talks about how, at that time, the bulk of Internet of Things connections (70 percent) were on 2G networks.
Of course, AT&T is not alone in its effort to sunset 2G. Verizon is also planning to shut down its 2G network. The company expects to do so by the end of 2019.
Meanwhile, other cellular carriers, like T-Mobile (News - Alert), have moved to capture the AT&T 2G customers that don’t want to upgrade. T-Mobile in September noted the then-impending AT&T 2G shut down, and offered those customers free T-Mobile 2G service through the end of 2016.