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Goodbye 2G and 3G, as operators speed up network closure plans

Joe Barrett GSA.jpg

Mobile operators in Europe and Asia are speeding up on their plan to close down 2G and 3G networks, according to the industry’s own suppliers.

The Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), in a new report, says that 48 operators have completed shutdown, five are in the process of closing 2G and 3G, and another 96 are planning to do so.

Joe Barrett (pictured), president of the GSA, said: “More and more operators and governments are coming to the decision that the older 2G and 3G technologies as well as the spectrum allocated to them should be migrated to faster and more efficient 4G and 5G networks. At the GSA, we are forecasting an increase in the number of operators moving off 2G and 3G networks as the transition to 4G and 5G will fully unfold.”

The peak year for closure will be 2025, says the GSA’s report.

According to its research, 53% of operators state their upgrade technology to be both 4G and 5G, highlighting the importance of these to mobile technology; 31% stated they will be upgrading to 4G only; 13% will be moving to 5G; and 3% will be upgrading to 3G, 4G and 5G.

For wholesale operators, the shutdown will mean they have to invest in new infrastructure – fibre networks and data centres – so operators can serve their mobile customers with faster 4G and 5G. A Cellsmart survey earlier this year showed 5G upload speeds of 31.27Mbps and download speeds of 241.61Mbps.

But the closure of 2G and 3G networks will have an extra unintended consequence, as they are the default technologies for roaming. Capacity showed in a series of articles in May and June that the shutdown is already affecting the ability of international travellers to make ordinary voice calls, and European operators are warning that this could affect their customers’ ability to make calls to US emergency services on 9‑1‑1.

The GSA report does not address those consequences, but notes that “the pace of 2G and 3G switch-off looks set to pick up over the coming years, with numerous operators from around the globe planning to close these networks. The rising number of 4G and 5G devices and adoption of newer technologies will see a slowing rate of adoption and use of 2G and 3G, furthering the need for operators and countries to free up spectrum for 4G and 5G upgrades.”

Europe has or will be undertaking the largest number of technology migrations, with 93 or 63% of the total, says the GSA. Asia will be responsible for 31 (21%), followed by North America and the Middle East and Africa with 8 (5%) each.

Barrett said: “When they were first introduced to the market, 2G and 3G were highly important innovations, but as greater technological advances have emerged, their importance has waned, and usage of both technologies is now diminishing worldwide.”

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