April 20, 2017

AT&T Sunsets Its 2G Network

We’ve been talking about it for a long while. And now the talk has turned into reality. AT&T has discontinued service on its 2G wireless network. AT&T’s 2G network went dark Jan. 1. 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 John 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 networks now cover 99 percent of Americans. And shutting down the 2G network frees up spectrum for other things, like 5G, he added. Of course, eliminating 2G also means AT&T lowers its costs, because it has 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 gave 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had been transmitting through NextMuni using a 2G network, which AT&T had deactivated because the technology is now outdated,” SFBay reported.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 Next-Muni 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 and some Next-Muni vehicles are just a couple of examples of 2G devices that may be impacted by legacy network shutdowns 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, 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 shutdown, and offered those customers free T-Mobile 2G service through the end of 2016.

As for 5G, AT&T is already working on that, having launched a 5G business customer trial leveraging millimeter wave technology in Austin, Texas, along with Intel and Ericsson last fall. 5G will deliver gigabit-level speeds and more capacity to better meet bandwidth demands. That’s important, the company says, given data on its mobile network has increased by 250,000 percent since 2007 and video traffic is growing rapidly. The company’s initial 5G lab trials have achieved wireless speeds of up to 14 gigabits per second.

5G also will allow for ultra-low latency connections, AT&T notes. That will be particularly important for such Internet of Things applications as the connected car and some healthcare applications. In lab trials, 5G has successfully tested a connection with less than 3 milliseconds of latency, although the industry expectation is that 5G will have latency of less than 5 milliseconds.

This year, AT&T said, it will expand its 5G work by:

• conducting a trial in Austin, Texas, in which residential customers will be able to stream DIRECTV NOW video over a fixed 5G connection;

• launching mobile and fixed wireless trials with Qualcomm Technologies and Ericsson showcasing new 5G radio mmWave technologies; and

• reaching peak theoretical speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second through the continued development of its 4G LTE-Advanced network (densifying with small cell deployment and carrier aggregation).

“Our 5G Evolution plans will pave the way to the next-generation of higher speeds for customers,” said Donovan. “We’re not waiting until the final standards are set to lay the foundation for our evolution to 5G. We’re executing now.”

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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