Battle brewing over 2G and 3G shutdowns in South Africa

There are at least two major mobile phone networks in South Africa over the country’s network Next Generation Radio Frequency Spectrum Policy Project.

The policy was first published for public comment on Thursday, September 8, 2022, and it outlines the government’s plan for how spectrum – the valuable and limited mode of transmission used in mobile network communications – will be used by telecom operators in the future.

Among its proposals is a reasonable aggressive framework for Turn off 2G and 3G services in the country to open up the spectrum previously occupied by these technologies.

This will enable faster and more efficient technologies such as LTE and 5G to improve connectivity.

One long-term effect this could have is to make mobile data more affordable by increasing the available bandwidth of 4G and 5G networks.

This could allow networks to support more customers per base station, reducing the need to build more towers in densely populated areas for additional capacity.

To this end, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies proposed banning the licensing of new 2G and 3G devices in June 2023 and March 2024 respectively, and shutting down 2G networks in June 2024 and 3G networks by March 2025.

The table below summarizes the timeline for 2G and 3G shutdowns in South Africa as suggested in the policy.

Limit 2G 3G
June 30, 2023 Prohibition of licensing second generation devices
December 31, 2023 Block new connections or activate 2G devices
March 31, 2024 Turn off 2G services Prohibition of licensing 3G devices
June 30, 2024 Shutting down second generation networks
September 30, 2024 Block new connections or activate 3G devices
December 31, 2024 3G services shutdown
March 30, 2025 Shutting down third generation networks

MyBroadband has asked South Africa’s largest mobile network for its views on the draft policy.

Jackie O’Sullivan, executive director of corporate affairs at MTN, said the country’s second-largest mobile operator has approved a plan to turn off old technology and ensure operators can reuse frequencies for more. sMobile technologies with bacterial efficiency.

However, O’Sullivan said this needs to be managed in a phased approach to migrating users to newer technologies.

The company said earlier that it intends to start winding down its 3G network in the 2025/2026 financial year.

Contrary to the government’s proposal, MTN believes that the shutdown of the 3G network should happen first while leaving the 2G layer to meet the needs of older 2G devices that will take longer to migrate.

While 3G is primarily used for voice and data communication on phones, many machine-to-machine devices for services like banking and security use 2G.

O’Sullivan said MTN would be more involved in the proposed timelines.

MTN SA CEO, Corporate Affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan

But where MTN believes 3G should be the first to go, Telkom appears to be standing in the opposite corner on the matter.

It supports shutdown of 2G networks but opposes the timeline for stopping 3G services.

The operator explained that only 35% of voice traffic was relayed to Voice-over-LTE, while the rest relied on 3G.

“We still carry a lot of volume on the 3G network and we don’t think the 2025 deadline is realistic,” Telkom said.

The operator also said the shutdown should only happen after industry-wide consultation.

The other two big mobile players that support 2G and 3G connectivity on their network – Vodacom and Cell C – played their cards near the chests.

A Vodacom spokesperson told MyBroadband that the operator was analyzing the feasibility of proposed timelines and aimed to engage further with the minister.

“With regard to the decommissioning of 2G and 3G networks, our considered view is that the decision will require a multi-stakeholder approach,” the spokesperson said.

Cell C said the spectrum policy was necessary to address the policy gaps and limitations identified in the ICT white paper, the current competitive landscape and the changing industry facing structural changes.

“Cell C therefore welcomes the initiation of a process of public consultation on this policy and will in due course submit written reports to the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies for consideration,” the operator said.

None of the operators shared any views regarding the proposal to open up the spectrum for trading and sharing, subject to the regulations.


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