Last Call: Analog Cell Phone Service Disappearing

With 4G and WiMax services on the horizon, a new digital wireless era is approaching--but the era of another form of cordless communications is soon to come to a close: namely, analog cellular phone service, which will cease nationally on February 18.

Who cares? Very few, carriers say. But owners of older cell phones, people who are in areas not well served by digital, and owners of home alarm systems should all care.

The shutdown--approved by the Federal Communications Commission--is called the "analog sunset" because those so-called AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System) networks, which were first deployed in the 1980s and brought cellular service to millions of Americans, will finally disappear.

The biggest U.S. mobile operators, AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless, will close down their analog networks that day. At the same time, AT&T will turn off its first digital network, which uses TDMA (Time-Division Multiple Access) technology. (Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA don't have analog networks.) Calls to some small, rural mobile operators indicated that most of them plan to shut down AMPS, too.

There aren't many mobile phones out there that will go dark after the analog sunset, according to the big carriers, which have been warning subscribers about the change for months and offering them incentives to switch over.

[ Is the end of analog service going to put you out? Talk back to us in comments, below. We're also looking for photos of your vintage analog gear. Send your pics (along with your name, location, and a description of the equipment) to yourphotos@pcworld.com ] 

"We're talking about a very, very small number of customers here," said AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel. He estimated that 99.9 percent of AT&T's traffic is carried on GSM (GSM stands for Global System for Mobile Communications and is a leading form of digital cellular). Verizon spokesperson Debra Lewis estimated that less than 1 percent of that carrier's subscribers were on analog even before it started a big effort to reach them last year. Neither company gave exact numbers of customers. But given that those operators have about 60 million subscribers each, the number of analog users might still be in the hundreds of thousands.

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