updated 10:40 am EST, Sun March 4, 2012
ATT to start repurposing 2G bands for 3G and 4G
AT&T in remarks confirmed what should be a long, gradual transition away from GSM and EDGE networks. Company letters, as well as official commentary to MarketWatch, warned customers that their 2G-only devices might lose coverage partly or entirely in "certain areas" of New York City over time. Customers weren't being required to switch, but they were being given free upgrades to 3G-capable devices that would normally have a small contract price, such as the Samsung Evergreen.
Spokesman Mark Siegel explained it as part of a plan to repurpose the 1,900MHz band. While the 850MHz band would stay for now, those using GSM or EDGE on a device or in an area where only 1,900MHz was available would eventually have no choice but to upgrade. Siegel wasn't specific on plans, although it was most likely to start using 1,900MHz for LTE-based 4G given that 3G already runs in the 1,900MHz band.
The shift would mark one of the first clear moves away from 2G in the US. GSM has been in use in the US for roughly two decades and is still considered the baseline for cellphone voice in most countries, but it has increasingly become an obstacle in smartphone-heavy countries where 3G and 4G are facing possible spectrum crunches and data is used more often. Voice can work on 3G and is typically both higher quality and easier to deploy than on 2G; LTE will support voice in roughly the next year.
T-Mobile is the only other major network in the US expected to make a similar transition to AT&T's. CDMA networks will have a more abrupt jump from 2G to 4G, since their 3G by its nature is used solely for data.