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The Death of 2G Networks and a Eulogy to My Phone

Just two month ago, the number of smartphone users in the US surpassed the number of "dumbphone" users. Although I have written many articles about smartphones and cutting-edge technology, I still, ironically, use this old fashioned phone, the Motorola i576 Nextel phone. At an inch thick and ugly as an ugly brick, it has been with me for well over 3 years. It has survived multiple 10+ ft drops, it has been thrown into a laundry machine, it has been run over by a car, and it has served as a slingshot projectile. Unfortunately, today is the day that it no longer works.

It didn't die because I dropped it for the umpteenth time or because of any other physical damage. It died because back in October 2010, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse announced plans to shut down Sprint's 2G iDEN network. Hesse wanted to focus on 4G technology (WiMax and LTE) and strengthen their existing 3G CDMA network. As more 3G/4G towers were put up, more iDEN cell sites were torn down. Sprint expects iDEN to be completely shut down by the start of 2013. But Sprint’s not the only one doing this. AT&T, just yesterday, announced the end of 2G EDGE service in New York, saying, “if we can't buy new 4G airwaves, then we have to cannibalize the older networks for their valuable frequencies.”

The problem is that the major U.S. phone carriers are running out of the airwaves necessary to provide voice, text and Internet services to its customers. Wireless spectrum, the invisible infrastructure over which all our calls, videos, emails, and Facebook statuses travel, is a finite resource. When will we reach the limit? No one knows exactly, but almost everyone in the mobile phone industry agrees that a crunch is coming. Although the U.S. still has a slight spectrum surplus, the surplus, at the current growth rate, will turn into a deficit as early as next year, according to the Federal Communications Commission's estimates.

That’s why, sadly, I have to say goodbye to this antique and loyal phone that has served me so well for the last 3 years. I have to sacrafice this part of my life so that more people can have 4G. In fact, I’m so sad to let it go, that I am going to dedicate a short little review to it.

Here we go...

The Motorola i576 is a standard Nextel phone produced for making calls. It's a simple and basic phone. The i576 measures 4.3 inches tall by 1.8 inches wide by 1 inch thick. Although the phone is rather thick and makes a huge bulge in your pocket, it's rugged design with rubber sidings makes the i576 extermely durable. One of the nicest things of this flip phone is the external secodnary screen. It is quite small, but it conveniently shows the date, battery life, time, signal strength, and caller IDs. Among the exterior controls is the volume rocker and a Push-to-Talk (PTT) button. The buttons are spacious and tactile with a cool blue glow. On the top of the phone there is an extendable antenna and buttons for calls control when the handset is closed. On the bottom corners, there is a (useless) 2.5 mm headphone jack and a microUSB charging port. Flipping open the phone, there is a 1.75 inch display with a resolution horrendous by today's standards. The navigation array and numberpad are easy to type on because of their curvature and their nice blue glow. The OS itself is quite intuitive. Although you can't do as much as a modern smartphone can, there are still some nice features. Among the essential features are calendar, notepad, Bluetooth, voice recorder, voice dialing, vibrate mode, and call forwarding. There used to be support for a Java Apps store, but it was shut down shortly after Sprint announced the end to its iDEN network. Although this is a "dumb phone", there is one essential thing about this phone that stands out. The call quality on this phone is exceptional. I have absolutely no idea how to put this statement into numbers, but I can tell you that calls on the i576 sound much better than any other iPhone or Android smartphone or WP7 out there. Audio is always clear and crisp. One thing this phone lacks, though, is a camera. Although the design of this phone is not very sophisticated, it has done its job darn well and I will miss the phone in the future.

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