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December 04, 2014

Make Room for LTE: Verizon Starts Killing 3G Networks to Clear Space

Since the advance of 4G, Verizon has been hard at work augmenting its network to accommodate the changes. Indeed, Verizon has brought out two LTE networks since 2010, when it started working in 4G. A third is currently under construction, but this network will be a little something different; instead of a brand-new, from-scratch network, it's instead turning to its old 3G networks in order to put the third LTE network together.

The reports suggest that Verizon has been taking apart the old CDMA EV-DO systems, which will allow it to get back some PCS spectrum, putting that instead into LTE networks. Indeed, one alert spotter named Milan Milanovic happened to connect to the LTE network in Manhattan with a Nexus 5, which by itself was a noteworthy event as Verizon didn't typically support the device. He also connected with a Galaxy S4, and noted that the 1980 / 1990 MHz batch of frequencies was turned off, which was unusual in that that set of frequencies was normally part of Verizon's EV-DO network. With the aid of an industrial spectrum analyzer, according to reports, Milanovic could note that the frequencies in question were shut down. At least, said frequencies were shut down temporarily; the frequencies came back to life a little later on, but now packing LTE instead of CDMA signals.

Subsequent reports from Verizon proper, meanwhile, confirmed what Milanovic suspected: Verizon was testing LTE on the PCS band. Verizon was keeping mum on things like launch dates and locations for this to actually be commercially available, but the word was clear enough: Verizon is making at least a gradual move away from 3G. This is a move that's been in the works since at least 2011, as Verizon's CTO Tony Melone noted that Verizon had at least some plan to shut down 3G and move to 4G.

There's one major problem with this development, however; while much of Verizon's subscriber base will welcome the change, fully 41 percent—around 40 million devices—still have 2G or 3G radios. Should Verizon shut down 3G without some kind of consideration for those devices, said devices lose all connectivity, and that's plenty of possible consumers who may jump ship as a result. But Verizon seems to have this in hand, as demonstrated in Manhattan; it's shut off half of the upper-band 3G there.

It's been clear for some time now that bandwidth is a valuable commodity, and there seldom seems to be quite enough of it to go around for mobile users. With a steadily increasing number of uses coming into play for that bandwidth—videoconferencing, various real time communications applications, and of course the standards like gaming and streaming video—more of it, and faster quantities as well, will only be more necessary. Verizon seems to be preparing for that eventuality, and more power to it, yet by like token it's also bearing in mind all those customers who don't yet have the improved hardware to handle such speeds, and that's a good thing. Like as not, Verizon is remembering it has competition in the field, and is working accordingly.

Is this the beginning of the end for 3G? That's likely to be the case. With 4G becoming the baseline and even 5G starting to make a few appearances in recent days, 3G's time has come, and is likely on the way out. Hopefully soon this is the start of a new era with plenty of bandwidth for all, at reasonable prices.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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