South Africa’s Communications Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has proposed a switch off of 2G cellular networks by June 2024 and 3G networks by March 2025, a move likely to draw anxiety in some quarters.
The proposed termination of 2G and 3G services in South Africa, contained in a draft policy on the licensing of “next-generation radio frequency spectrum” and published by the minister’s office at the weekend, comes as the South Africa government looks to free up spectrum for next-generation 5G services.
Shutting down older networks, including those built using 2G and 3G technologies, will help ensure the country “realises the benefits of rapid technological changes in telecommunications”, the draft policy document says.
In an annexure to the draft policy, Ntshavheni has proposed the following:
Sunset of 2G networks
- The prohibition of the licensing of 2G devices by communications regulator Icasa by 30 June 2023 (less than 10 months from now);
- The prohibition of new connections or activations of 2G devices on networks by 31 December 2023;
- The shutdown of 2G services by 31 March 2024; and
- The shutdown of 2G networks by 30 June 2024.
Sunset of 3G networks
- The prohibition of the licensing of 3G devices by 31 March 2024;
- The prohibition of connections or activations of 2G devices on networks by 30 September 2024;
- The shutdown of 3G services by 31 December 2024; and
- The shutdown of 3G networks by 30 March 2025.
However, forcing a shutdown of 2G networks could prove contentious. Vodacom said in 2019 that even as it prepared to move to more modern technology, it would find it difficult to terminate its 2G network entirely.
Andries Delport, at the time Vodacom’s group chief technology officer, said that migrating 2G voice users onto new technologies would allow it to reduce the amount of spectrum it needed for 2G to a “thin layer” of just 2-3MHz. It wouldn’t, however, be able to switch 2G off entirely because it was still used by emergency services and for other applications.
Telkom, which has little 2G legacy on its network due to its launching mobile services much later than its rivals, has been the first to remove 2G from its infrastructure and to focus predominantly on 4G/LTE. MTN, Vodacom and Cell C don’t have the same luxury.
In the draft policy document, the minister describes the proposed shutdown dates for 2G and 3G services as part of a “road map” that will ensure the termination of services is done in a coordinated manner that causes “minimal disruption to services”.
The dates are not set in stone, and will be subject to a “continuous review” to free so-called high-demand spectrum — radio frequencies where demand for access exceeds supply, typically for mobile broadband.
“The minister, after consultation with the regulator and industry, will issue a policy direction for the shutdown of old generation and inefficient networks,” the draft document states.
“The minister … will continuously review, update and publish a revised road map for the shutdown of old-generation and inefficient networks.”