Telstra this morning closed the curtains on its 23-year-old 2G GSM mobile phone network, marking the end of an era in Australian telecommunications.
The telco estimates around 87 billion phone calls have been made using the 2G service during its lifetime.
But as of today, customers who put off upgrading their legacy devices will no longer be able to make or receive phone calls or use data on the network.
Less than 1 percent of its network traffic came from 2G customers when Telstra first announced the network closure in July 2014.
“We launched the 2G network over 20 years ago and in that time it has provided great service for our customers. But like many good things, the time has come to say farewell to the 2G network,” Telstra’s director of device management Andy Volard said.
“If you or someone you know uses a 2G mobile phone please pop into your local store so we can talk about your options.”
In a bid to avoid the dramas leading up to the closure of its analogue mobile network in December 1999 and CDMA in April 2008, Telstra has attempted to contact all remaining 2G customers over recent months through a number of channels including mail and SMS.
Selected residential and small business users have been offered a ‘care pack’ containing a replacement mobile phone, while free SIM upgrades have also been made available to any customer who requires one.
The telco is urging anyone still using devices that rely on the 2G network, including life-critical devices such as medical alarms, to urgently contact the vendor to arrange a replacement.
The end of an era
The shutdown of the Telstra 2G network, which first launched in April 1993, marks the conclusion of a period of significant growth and change within the Australian telecommunications industry.
Industry analyst Paul Budde told iTnews the introduction of 2G was significant because it kicked off proper competition in the Australian mobile phone market.
Previously Telstra, then known as Telecom Australia, had operated its analogue AMPS mobile phone network as a government-owned monopoly.
The Telstra 2G network was also the first in Australia to adopt the global GSM digital mobile standard, with standardisation paving the way for mass mobile phone adoption by creating the scale necessary to drive down handset and network infrastructure costs.
“Until that time, Telstra was the sole provider of mobile services and new licences were handed out, and [2G] opened up competition. We then saw a range of activities from what became Optus on one side, and Vodafone on the other,” Budde said.
“Telstra had the advantage because it had all these additional customers on its [analogue] network that it could then convert to 2G. From that early beginning, Telstra was significantly larger, and that situation hasn’t changed."
While Telstra subsequently enhanced the 2G network by adding GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and later EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) data capabilities, Budde said speed and cost limitations prevented the widespread adoption of these services.
“The reality was that if you wanted to use data on the mobile network it was slow, but more importantly it was not very affordable. You saw it take off to a certain extent in the business market, but it became a problem because there was an enormous cost involved in utilising it,” he said.
“Even in business, when you had individual users racking up bills of $200, $300 or $400, you saw a crackdown of the use of data. In the residential market it never really took off because of that very high cost.”
The beginning of the end for 2G came in 2004 when Telstra launched its first 3G network in partnership with Hutchison Australia, followed by the launch of its 3.5G HSPA Next G network in October 2006.
“A key element between 2G and 3G was that the 3G network was far more data efficient, and therefore the operators could save a significant amount of money – around 30 percent compared to 2G, and that allowed them to come up with better prices,” Budde said.
The killer application for 3G data use came with the mass adoption of smartphones in the late 2000s, although the 2G networks were retained to support international roaming.
“When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, it was the handset manufacturers and in particular Apple and Google who set the scene. Telstra and Optus had to follow. There was a dramatic shift in the power in the market,” Budde said.
“What you have seen over the past decade that mobile communication has moved from a luxury to a utility where you need it both socially and in business.”