It was bound to happen sooner or later, but it appears AT&T is ready to start transitioning users off their 2G EDGE network and getting them onto their 3G HSPA network. Letters went out this past week encouraging people to upgrade because their voice and data quality might suffer degradation. But why now? GigaOM thinks it's a move to free up available network spectrum.
As Kevin Fitchard points out, part of the reason AT&T wanted to buy T-Mobile to increase the capacity of their network. Which is to say, they wanted to be able to better handle more voice and data activity at any given time. But that didn't happen. By shutting down their 2G networks, they would free up plenty of space to upgrade and improve performance for 3G customers.
If AT&T is shutting down a significant portion of 2G networks, it may have found an answer to its capacity problems – at least in part. If it can't buy new 4G airwaves, then it can cannibalize its older networks, harvesting their valuable frequencies for new HSPA and LTE capacity. That's exactly the approach T-Mobile plans to take to get to LTE. When all is said and done, T-Mobile will have a sliver of GSM network remaining, but it will have an even bigger HSPA+ than it runs today, as well as an LTE network on par with AT&T's and Sprint's'.
AT&T says that they've only sent out notices to New York customers for the time being, and will only send out more to a small group, but the message is clear: Now that 3G has fully matured and 4G is on its way in, it's time for 2G to go. [MarketWatch via GigaOM]