Subscribers around the world rely on 2G cellular, a still-vital technology for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and network availability in rural parts of many countries--and that won't change for some time.
In the U.S., all three major carriers have announced dates and plans to shut off 2G. But there are surprising differences in their strategies.
Last October when AT&T Mobility confirmed it would shutter its 2G network as of the turn of this year, which they duly did, other nimble operators promptly said they would “throw a lifeline” to subscribers. The most aggressive has been T-Mobile, which promptly announced it would offer free SIM cards and clever service bundles to users of IoT services on AT&T’s 2G network.
The country’s third largest operator is attempting to lure subscribers by offering up to 50MBytes of 2G connectivity per device per month through the end of the year. T-Mobile’s plan uses its “new spectrum-efficient 2G GSM optimization.”
The optimization has been achieved by turning an unidentified amount of spectrum to the needs of 2G M2M connections. This, it stressed, “would allow older GSM devices to work alongside more advanced LTE devices on America’s most advanced network,” through at least 2020. For new customers seeking longer network support, T-Mobile added it will support 2G via its newly approved Category 1 LTE modules.
All this seems to be part of a concerted effort by T-Mobile to bolster its IoT efforts, and comes on the back of a deal concluded late last year with Sequans to use the French group’s LTE Cat1 technology for M2M and IoT applications. Sequans’ LTE Cat-1 chipset platform is said to be capable of very high throughput.
While it realizes that the writing is on the wall for 2G, T-Mobile at least is trying to ensure customers can keep doing business on 2G while giving them plenty of time to come up with their migration strategy.
Meanwhile AT&T’s arch rival Verizon plans to shutter its CDMA1X (2G) network by the end of 2019. Both it and AT&T are also gearing up to offer Cat-1 as an alternative to 2G IoT. All say they need to re-farm their valuable spectrum and use it more efficiently for emerging mobile broadband offerings on HSPA-based 3G and 4G LTE technology.
To be fair to AT&T, it has done its utmost to make the transition for customers as painless as possible. It had already migrated some six million to the faster networks, but that still left six million using 2G, the majority for M2M applications. This is hardly surprising since the sensors and modules in an M2M networks have a significantly longer life cycle than handsets, and the cost of replacing modules is also higher.
The carrier provided a detailed document and a thorough Q&A list for subscribers “to ensure their mobile communications needs are met throughout the process.” But it suggested that, “ultimately, customers are responsible for planning hardware upgrades ahead of network shutdowns.”
Next page: A varied picture outside the U.S.