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AT&T last week said it is shutting down its second-generation, or 2G, wireless networks by 2017 as it continues to upgrade its systems to faster technology and better use its limited airwaves.

The telecom giant said about 12% of its contract wireless customers, or roughly 8.4 million people are still using 2G handsets, but it will work “proactively” to move them to more advanced devices. Like the other major carriers, AT&T’s customers mostly use phones with 3G, or third-generation, technology, and it is aggressively rolling out a nationwide 4G network.

AT&T’s analog cellular system (1G) used the AMPS system, introduced in the mid ’80s. AT&T first introduced digital in their 2G network in the early 1990′s, using GSM to digizize voice. 3G networks added much faster data channels using UMTS. Its 4G network upgrade, using LTE data services, began rolling out last September. According to the ITU, the next step, LTE Advanced should really be reserved for the official “4G” tag.

Spectral efficiency typically doubles about every 30 months, according to Cooper’s Law, enabling twice as many people to use the same spectrum.

According to AT&T’s SEC filing:


As of June 30, 2012, over one-third of our postpaid smartphone subscribers use a 4G-capable device (i.e., a device that would operate on our HSPA+ or Long Term Evolution (LTE) network). Due to substantial increases in the demand for wireless service in the United States, AT&T is facing significant spectrum and capacity constraints on its wireless network in certain markets. We expect such constraints to increase and expand to additional markets in the coming years.

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. We will manage this process consistent with previous network upgrades and will transition customers on a market-by-market basis from our Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) networks (referred to as 2G networks) to our more advanced 3G and 4G networks. We expect to fully discontinue service on our 2G networks by approximately January 1, 2017.

See: Analog Cellular to Shut Down

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