The days of 2G voice calls are numbered at Verizon Wireless – 1260 days to be exact. Verizon last week told FierceWireless it has set a shutdown date for its CDMA 1X network, which still carries the majority of its voice traffic. That date is Dec. 31, 2019. If you still have a 2G/3G only phone – an increasing rarity these days in the U.S. – you still have plenty of time to upgrade to a 4G device, and Verizon has said it might extend that date if there are still a lot of 4G holdouts in three years’ time. But you’ve been put on notice: 2G networks won’t be around forever.
Verizon isn’t the only one bidding adieu to 2G. AT&T will begin shuttering its GSM network in less than six months, and operators around the world have announced similarly aggressive 2G sunset plans. Why are all of these operators mothballing perfectly good voice networks? The answer is spectrum. They need more of it to feed consumers’ growing hunger for data services, and with limited amount of new airwaves becoming free, they’re cannibalizing their 2G networks for more 4G capacity. They still need to offer voice, but new voice-over-LTE services can do that job much more efficiently than any 2G network.
The main reason 2G is sticking around so long is not for mobile phones but for the industrial internet of things. There are 2G radios embedded in every manner of contraption from shipping containers to soda dispensers to farm combines, and they get replaced far less often than the typical consumer device. The last remnants of 2G networks won’t be serving phones; they’ll be serving the world of machines.
2G, we’re going to miss you. It was 2G that really kicked off the mobile revolution around the world, making mobile service widespread and affordable to the majority of the world’s population. But a market can only support so many generations of mobile technology simultaneously, and it’s looking like that number adds up to three generations. Right before the launch of 4G in the late 2000s, we saw the large-scale shutdown of the remaining 1G (AMPS) networks in the U.S. It’s likely no coincidence that 2G is going offline right before the expected global rollout of 5G services.