How do you feel about GPRS or Edge? Should we kill it or live with it? Or re-fit it?

I’ve been using an iPhone on Vodafone’s network for a few weeks on the train commute I do most mornings. I’ve done this to compare the experience with a 3 (or “Three”) iPhone.

The major difference between both networks that I can discern is the following:

1. I find things much faster on 3G with 3.

2. There is no fall-back to GPRS or Edge with 3.

I’m torn.

It is really, really annoying seeing the little E pop-up on my iPhone to signify “Edge”. That’s a daily experience in Richmond-upon-Thames unfortunately. It does mean that the connection, generally, still works. And on the train I do get a usable connection even if there’s no 3G. Usable in that it takes about 30 seconds for the mobile-optimised frontpage of The Telegraph to load.

So .. almost flipping useless. But I still feel connected. And email still does arrive — even if it is at a snail’s pace.

But…

On 3, I get nothing. It’s a binary experience. It’s either flipping fast (when there’s a good 3G signal) or there’s nothing as they don’t appear to have a data-fall back.

Park that situation for a moment and consider this story in the Wall Street Journal. The quick summary is that AT&T is going to shut down it’s 2G network by 2017 — i.e. in less than 5 years. Currently, 12% of the operator’s customers are still using 2G devices but there’s more than enough time to get them upgraded.

However, is shutting down the old kit the way ahead?

I was sent some opinion on this topic from Askar Sheibani, CEO of IT and telecoms repair company Comtek. As you might expect, Askar doesn’t think the 2G equipment should be deactivated entirely. There’s obviously a benefit to Comtek here, but I think his points are valid:

“With much of the focus on getting 4G rollouts right, as well as improving the UK’s somewhat patchy 3G services, switching off 2G services should be the last thing on any operators mind – not just for the foreseeable future, but in the long term. As last month’s O2 outage proves, 2G services are not just a framework we revert to when things go wrong, they are the foundation to our entire telecoms infrastructure. While this model will understandably shift in time with the advent of tried and tested 4G services, I do not believe there will be a time when we can label 2G as ‘obsolete’.

Askar Sheibani, CEO, Comtek

“Mobile operators in the UK should instead be looking to incorporate long term repair strategies that ensure 2G networks are maintained, so that customers can continue to receive the level of service they have come to expect and rely upon. This outlook remains especially pertinent for business and consumers in rural areas who still depend upon reliable legacy networks to help them make basic phone calls or send text messages.

“While killing 2G services in the US is certainly a bold move, and one that I will watch play out with interest, such a severe decision would leave the UK industry in disarray.”

It’s a move that (sticking locally as an example) would remove connectivity for most Vodafone customers in Richmond at the moment. (Even if Vodafone introduced LTE tomorrow, I’d only be able to get it on certain streets in Richmond — on the basis that they’ll be upgrading their existing towers.) But.. 3 signal is absolutely phenomenally fast and ubiquitous across the area.

What’s your view? Indeed, what’s your view of Askar’s point that there will never be a time when 2G can be labeled as ‘obsolete’? Fair point given the huge amount of M2M going on that really doesn’t need anything other than a simple data connection.

Update: Kim Depussé from Gemalto picked the topic up and ran with it over on the Gemalto Blog.

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10 Responses to How do you feel about GPRS or Edge? Should we kill it or live with it? Or re-fit it?

  1. Neil Ramsay August 7, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    In Japan NTT DOCOMO recently switched off their 2G network. The way to do it properly is to replace all your 2G masts with either 3G @ 900 or 4G @ 1800 thus reusing your existing spectrum to give faster speeds with the same coverage as present.

  2. Ewan August 7, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    Aye!

  3. Neil Ramsay August 7, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    Of course, after our long awaited 4G spectrum auction we could augment this coverage with more 4G @ 800 for the sparsely populated areas and 2600 for the large towns and cities. Hey presto, all it needs is for the operators to vastly increase CAPEX and everyone to get rid of their 2G only mobile. What are we waiting for 😉

  4. Ewan August 7, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    Heh bring it on? 😉

  5. ric August 7, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

    “As last month’s O2 outage proves” – how does it, they had effectively a HLR failure & no-one could use 2G or 3G.

    You’re so right about 3 and 2G data, hopefully they will sort this out soon…?

  6. Ewan August 7, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    I doubt it? I think it’s standard policy!

  7. james vincent August 7, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    2G is something we have all come to rely on and trust, more than 3G? AT&T need to do this as capacity is short in USA. But they are deploying 3G HSPA+, over their 2G platform [700mhz]??? Is that right? I think they are doing well.
    Back on this side of the pond, O2 are doing a great job and banging out 3G HSPA+ over their 900mhz. So when it comes to it, I think O2 would be the first to shut down GSM. They need to be careful as to how much of their 900mhz they reframe. I do think there will come the time when they start moving customers to 3G handsets as they’ll want to eventually refraim all of it.
    With all this moving on, HSPA+, 4GLTE, how long will 2G GSM live? Askar is right, there won’t be a time it becomes Obsolete, [just because its less capable on speed?]. But we will continue to ‘need’ to refraim exsisting spectrum. Although here in Britain it will be quite some years away [‘cos 3G coverage is a mess, sorry vodafone, O2, everything everywhere but it’s true] GSM’s days are already numbered. [look at AT&T and O2]
    P.S – vodafone, you’re usless, where’s your 3G over your 900mhz? You ain’t even started…

  8. Mark August 19, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

    Problem is 900 Gsm is still what only some people can get . I only get Vodafone and O2 despite the other masts being closer. The Cotswolds are difficult to cover and Nimbys will just make the switch and 4G experience a joke!

  9. Ewan August 19, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

    Oh dear…

  10. Mike Strefford September 19, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Also a comment on a 2G service in the US is hardly relevant to the UK, planning an network rollout strategies are completely different. In the US the vast majority of mobile coverage is in Cities and towns with VERY little coverage outside of those areas, even along major freeways. In the UK the original criteria for the 2G network with 95% geographical coverage and 98% population coverage meant that we have a very different experience of network coverage in the UK – we expect to be able to drive from London to Birmingham and be able to make calls all the way, we are not surprised when we get mobile coverage at the top of remote mountains in the scottish highlands. These would be unthinkable to a US mobile user, but are commonplace to us in the UK.

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