Will AT&T's phase-out of 2G service affect gov customers?

AT&T, a service provider under the General Services Administration’s Networx telecommunications contract, plans to phase out 2G mobile services during the next five years to make room on its networks for more advanced 3G and 4G services, but the move is not expected to leave government users high and dry.

“GSA does not anticipate a significant impact on mobile and cellular operations as a result of AT&T's decision to phase out 2G services in 2017,” a GSA spokesman said.

GSA was not able to provide the number of government employees still using the older phones, but AT&T, in its most recent quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, said about 12 percent of its contract customers were using 2G handsets. The company reported a total of 105.2 million wireless subscribers as of June 30.

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Second generation — or 2G — service is digital wireless networking introduced commercially in the 1990s to replace the original analog cellular technology. It originally was based on the GMS (Global System for Mobile communications) protocol and offers limited data service in addition to voice. It is being replaced by faster 3G service and by 4G, a group of emerging high-speed services based on a variety of technologies including WiMAX and LTE (Long Term Evolution).

Although 3G service now dominates many markets (AT&T reported that about 33 percent of its subscribers used a 4G-capable device as of June 30, leaving about 55 percent using 3G), 2G still offers a viable, less-expensive alternative for many users and some analysts believe it will remain competitive for several more years.

As recently as late 2010, 2G was called resurgent in a report from Infonetics Research. “Despite the misleading ‘4G’ pandemonium in the U.S., 2G is back in full force and will keep the planet busy for the next few years as global mobile penetration reaches 100 percent,” principal analyst Stéphane Téral predicted.

But AT&T reported in its latest quarterly report that it is “facing significant spectrum and capacity constraints on its wireless network in certain markets,” and it expects these pressures to spread in the coming years.

This pressure was increased by the failure last year of its proposed acquisition of T-Mobile, which would have provided additional spectrum. As a result, the company reported that it plans “to redeploy spectrum currently used for basic 2G services to support more advanced mobile Internet services on our 3G and 4G networks,” and will discontinue 2G service by 2017.

The phaseout will be done on a market-by-market basis. The company earlier this year began notifying some 2G subscribers in New York that they might not be able to use the phones in some areas and urging them to upgrade.

AT&T said in a statement that “well in advance of this change, we will reach out to our relatively small percentage of 2G customers and offer them options to meet their needs.”


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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