While in Europe there are few network operators if any at this point in time thinking openly about shutting down their 2G GSM networks, network operators in other parts of the world are seriously contemplating it or have already done it.
One of the very first operators that shut down its 2G network was NTTDoCoMo in Japan. Agreed, it was a special case, it wasn't GSM it was a local proprietary solution, but still. Last year, AT&T has announced that they will shut down their GSM network in 2017. That's not so far away anymore and from what I can tell they are serious about it. And the latest example is a network operator in Macau according to this post on Telegeography. O.k. that's a special case again but still the number of 2G network shutdowns is growing.
Sure there are perhaps quite a number of 2G-only embedded modules in machines today (including the block heater of my car and my GSM controllable power socket) and 2G only mobiles in the hands of people. But I guess their number will not dwindle before an announcement is made. Sure, there will be lots of complaints especially from the embedded side.This makes me wonder how the story will look like in Europe!? With multi-RAT base stations it might not be very costly to keep GSM running in the future. As traffic goes down on GSM one could re-farm the spectrum and put LTE in the freed space or extend the bandwidth of existing LTE carriers. That inevitably means LTE will be deployed in many different bands simultaneously which will require efficient load balancing algorithms between the different carriers. But compared to other features such as SON, HetNet, etc. that should be rather simple to accomplish.
5 years ago I already speculated about the conditions for GSM phaseout and potential exit scenarios on this blog. Have a look here. The reasons for keeping a GSM network I listed 5 years ago are pretty much no longer here due to the emergence of LTE on high and low frequency bands and 3G devices now including the 900 band for Europe and at least two or three roaming bands. Good to see how technology has advanced. So let's see which of the exit scenarios I described in that five year old blog post will be used.