AT&T has a message for its 2G customers: Really, you can do better.
In a letter sent out to customers that still have 2G devices, AT&T told these people that their older devices "might not be able to make or receive calls and you may experience degradation of your wireless service in certain areas." The carrier says that upgrading to 3G or 4G smartphones is entirely voluntary for now, although AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel told MarketWatch that it has plans to use some of its current 2G spectrum for LTE deployments.
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AT&T has been working on multiple fronts to either acquire or free up more spectrum for its LTE network, including its failed attempt to merge with T-Mobile and its aggressive lobbying of the Federal Communications Commission to free up additional spectrum. The failed T-Mobile merger actually wound up costing AT&T a significant chunk of potential LTE spectrum as it had to forfeit 7MHz of spectrum on the AWS spectrum band (1750MHz to 1755MHz for uplink, 2110MHz-2155MHz for downlink) as compensation. AT&T currently has solid spectrum depth on the prime 700MHz band but will need to free up more LTE spectrum if it wants to match the amount of LTE spectrum currently available to rival carrier Verizon.
AT&T's quest for more LTE spectrum also received a boost recently when the House of Representatives passed legislation authorizing the FCC to conduct spectrum auctions. The legislation prevents the FCC from excluding carriers from bidding on certain spectrum blocks in the name of preserving competition. AT&T first launched its LTE services commercially in five cities last summer and has been steadily extending its reach to major markets such as New York and San Francisco.
In 2010 the FCC set a goal to make 300MHz of spectrum available for wireless broadband use over the next five years with the eventual goal of freeing up 500MHz of spectrum by the end of 2020. The FCC has said that it could reach 300MHz by reallocating 120MHz of spectrum currently used by television broadcasters, with 90MHz coming from mobile satellite providers, 10MHz coming from the 700MHz "D Block," 60MHz coming from the AWS band and 20MHz coming from the Wireless Communications Service band. The FCC has projected that growth in wireless data demand will lead to a "spectrum deficit" of 275MHz if no new spectrum is released by 2014. There is currently 547MHz of spectrum available for dual use in mobile voice and data services.