The Long (Updated) Ride into the 2G Sunset

Posted by on April 12, 2017 at 5:00 AM Carmi Brandis  
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As you know by now, AT&T kept its promise to sunset 2G as of January 1, 2017 and now has made 3G WCDMA (UMTS) HSPA 850/1900 MHz Band 2 and Band 5 the minimum requirement for its network. The reason AT&T, as well as every other carrier, is sunsetting 2G is simple — they need the space. Eliminating 2G enables the providers to refarm their valuable spectrums for 3G and, more importantly, 4G LTE technology, which are proving increasingly vital with the unceasing growth of IoT worldwide.

Given this changeover was announced years ago, and made by such a major player, many people assumed the industry as a whole would abandon 2G by this time. After all, AT&T’s IoT network supports nearly 29 million connective devices, including 9.4 connected cars, with millions of new devices being added yearly. The reality turned out to be a little different.  

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Across the globe, 2G still is an important part of M2M communications and network availability for many rural areas. With such a tremendous installed base, other carriers have decided to turn 2G into a competitive edge, at least for the time being. Eventually, every carrier will sunset 2G, but not in 2017.

T-Mobile was the most aggressive, actively pursuing AT&T customers ‘stranded’ (their words) by the company’s elimination of 2G. The efforts paid off. Most AT&T customers not willing to upgrade migrated to T-Mobile, with the company promising “spectrum-efficient 2G GSM optimization” to every affected customer.

Likewise, Verizon has stated publicly that it will not shutter 2G until 2019, although the company appears more concerned with getting customers migrated to newer technology as soon as possible. They aren’t as interested in encouraging legacy network customers to stay the course and, like AT&T, are gearing up to offer Cat-1 as an interim alternative. 

Where does that leave 2G customers? Assuming they have migrated to a non-AT&T carrier, they are fine in the short term, but the writing is on the wall. Unlike consumer products, such as smartphones that are regularly replaced, IoT-enabled devices generally are part of an infrastructure solution. That means they stay in use for years, possibly decades, and cannot be easily changed—especially if they are embedded.

Long term, devices cannot be wed to an aging network technology and that, ultimately, will include 3G as well. (There are rumors that some carriers may sunset 2G and 3G at the same time.) 2G is safe for roughly another two years. In the interim, it is crucial for IoT/M2M providers to strategically incorporate scalable, ‘future-proof’ business models now. 

Like it or not, the sun finally will set.

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Topics: 2G, 2G GSM Sunset, IoT connectivity, connected devices, service providers