It looks like we were right about AT&T(s t) sunsetting its 2G networks to make way for more mobile broadband capacity. On Wednesday, Ma Bell announced it would ‘refarm’ PCS spectrum in New York City currently occupied by its GSM voice networks for new “3G and 4G” services.
That means AT&T is expanding its HSPA network — which it calls 4G – to account for the increasing data load the iPhone(s aapl) and other 3G smartphones are placing on its mobile broadband infrastructure. AT&T runs LTE in NYC, as well, but in a different band. Meanwhile, the backbone of its HSPA service already rides over its PCS frequencies.
In March, AT&T started contacting customers with 2G only phones – specifically very old models that worked only on AT&T’s PCS frequencies – offering them free 3G replacements. AT&T isn’t shutting off 2G completely. It runs a considerable portion of its GSM network at the cellular frequency band, which all phones sold in recent years support. But if AT&T is trying to cull its subscriber base of PCS-only 2G phones, it’s a good sign it plans to shut down GSM at PCS entirely, reserving that band entirely for HSPA.
NYC is AT&T’s densest market so it’s the logical place to start. Unlike the its CDMA 3G counterpart, HSPA supports voice as well as data, so AT&T really isn’t sacrificing any voice capacity. It gains the benefits of a far faster and more efficient mobile broadband network that puts GSM/EDGE sub-megabit speeds to shame. AT&T also may be working with its 3G vendors Ericsson(s eric) and Alcatel-Lucent(s alu) to use new configurable bandwidth technologies to gradually shift GSM capacity to HSPA, as opposed to shutting off a huge chunk of its 2G network at once.
Refarming has become a popular trend among U.S. carriers in the last year. T-Mobile is shutting down a large portion of its GSM network to make room for a nationwide LTE rollout and more HSPA capacity. Meanwhile, Sprint(s s) plans to retire its Nextel iDEN network by 2014 in order to reuse its 800 MHz frequencies for CDMA and LTE.