AT&T: 2017 end of the line for 2G

Cell carrier’s ‘sunset’ for GSM will force upgrade to 3G and 4G radios
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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

YARMOUTH, Maine—AT&T will phase out its 2G networks by 2017, setting a long-anticipated timeline for the “sunset” of the technology and giving the alarm industry a target date to upgrade cellular equipment.

The telecom giant made the announcement on Aug. 3 in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company cited “significant spectrum and capacity constraints on its wireless network in certain markets” as it continues to transition customers to 3G and 4G.

“As part of our ongoing efforts to improve our network performance and help address the need for additional spectrum capacity, we intend to redeploy spectrum currently used for basic 2G services to support more advanced mobile Internet services on our 3G and 4G networks,” AT&T said in the filing. “We expect to fully discontinue service on our 2G networks by approximately Jan. 1, 2017.”

The announcement had been expected for more than a year by manufacturers of cellular alarm communicators, but the companies were not permitted to disclose the sunset date, according to Shawn Welsh, vice president of marketing and business development for Telguard.

“We couldn’t share the date, but we were told to make plans accordingly for that date,” Welsh told Security Systems News. “[Telguard] took the information and made the decision then and there that we would stop making GSM products.”

Telguard launched a 3G line of communicators last September to replace 2G products that utilize GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), the technology being phased out by AT&T and by far the most prevalent in the field. The life span of 2G products based on CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) is expected to be longer, with a sunset projected early in the next decade.

Welsh said more than 3 million 2G alarm communicators have been installed in the United States, with 80 percent to 90 percent of them on AT&T’s 2G network. T-Mobile, which also uses GSM, has not announced a sunset date. Sprint and Verizon both use CDMA.

Many alarm dealers skeptical about the declining 2G spectrum began to change their minds before AT&T’s announcement, Welsh said, despite the “he said, she said” in the industry about when the sunset would become a reality.

“They started coming around over the summer,” he said. “A lot more dealers who were told to just wait, just wait, now they’re starting to think, ‘You know what? I’ve waited long enough, I believe this is happening.’ With [AT&T’s] declarative statement, it’s all a moot point. It is real now. There is no more doubt.”

Gordon Hope, general manager of AlarmNet at Honeywell, said AT&T’s announcement will help clear up a lot of confusion in the field about the impending sunset and what needs to be done to prepare for it.

“One way to view the announcement is sort of a positive in that they pretty much put a 4½-year window on [2G] in terms of its eventual demise,” Hope told SSN. “It wouldn’t have mattered if it was 10 years from now, 20 years from now or five years from now. The fact that they made the announcement with a date brought the issue to the forefront for many people. They have to now face the reality of some hard date and they have to start making alternative plans.”

To help dealers make the transition, Hope said Honeywell is rolling out additional versions of the 4G radio—the LYNX Touch 5100—that it introduced at ISC West in March. The company says the 4G communicators, which are based on the HSPA+ standard, will provide a longer service life than 3G radios and utilize AT&T’s spectrum more efficiently.

Like previous technology cycles in the industry, Hope said the move away from 2G will be influenced by the behavior of carriers as they manage their changing networks.

“We all know how the transition went from AMPS to GSM, and we can anticipate that there will be similar transitional pains as we go into the next four years,” he said. “There will be certain areas that get weakened coverage, they’ll attempt to keep [coverage] up in certain areas, some radios may have problems. It’s all typical, it’s all stuff the industry has lived through before and will likely live through again.”