No one has really cared about AT&T’s 2G network for years now, but it’s always been there if you needed it for some reason. That’s no longer the case as of January 1st, which is when AT&T says it pulled the plug on 2G (EDGE) data in the US. It didn’t make a big stink about it ahead of time because so few people had been using 2G. However, this move is a dagger to the heart of some devices — for example, the original iPhone from 2007.
There were a number of compromises necessary with the original iPhone to make it a viable smartphone. It was hugely expensive for consumers at $600 with a contract. When you got set up on the iPhone, you’d quickly realize there were no apps, just some web apps that Apple was trying to push. It wasn’t until the following year Apple would launch the App Store alongside the faster iPhone 3G. Even if there were apps, you’d have a hard time downloading them on mobile data — the first iPhone was 2G-only. With AT&T’s latest move, that iPhone is unable to work as a phone anymore.
AT&T had a 3G network when it came into existence in 2007 — it was previously known as Cingular. That network was only a few years old at the time, but it wasn’t available everywhere. Apple chose to stick with 2G not because of the coverage issues, but because 3G used a lot more power. The cellular modems at the time weren’t very efficient.
Steve Jobs and the original iPhone
AT&T’s 2G EDGE network was capable of 70-135 Kbps downloads, but devices typically fell toward the bottom of that. EDGE was perfectly acceptable for making phone calls, though. The 3G network footprint (and now LTE) covers all EDGE service areas, so it’s safe to shut off EDGE completely. AT&T first announced this plan four years ago, and has been working to get everyone on 2G-only devices to upgrade. In some cases it offered cheap or free upgrades just to get everyone on to 3G or 4G LTE.
Devices like the original iPhone aren’t the only objects being disconnected from AT&T’s network. There are some cars that rely on AT&T’s 2G network to receive updates and transmit diagnostic information. Those are much harder to replace than a smartphone. San Francisco has also found that its legacy NextMuni network has stopped working. NextMuni was used on Muni busses and trains to estimate arrival times. Not all vehicles have the upgraded system in place, and that could take weeks to solve.
Verizon and T-Mobile also have preliminary plans to get rid of their aging 2G networks. T-Mobile is looking at 2020 as the end date for EDGE, and Verizon plans to phase out the 1xRTT network in 2019.