Recently, many countries and regions have announced the timetable for shutting down 3G mobile communication networks. Under the impact of the tide of technology, the 3G network, which has been in service for 20 years, is gradually withdrawing from the historical stage. Behind the shutdown of 3G, operators and the government have more expectations for new technologies, especially 5g.

3G network shutdown in many places

Deutsche Telekom recently said it would close its 3G network on June 30, 2021. This is the third German telecom operator that said it would shut down its 3G network. Not long ago, Vodafone Germany gave the same timetable. Spain Telecom Germany previously announced that it plans to close its 3G network by the end of 2022.

In Germany, the 3G network that has been “in service” for 20 years once made consumers love and hate. That year, the auction of 3G spectrum in Germany reached a staggering high price of $48 billion, and operators almost emptied their pockets. It is reported that Deutsche Telecom invested nearly $7.7 billion. This is a major reason why Germany has lagged behind in network investment for several years. In many people’s memories, when 3G was first launched, not only did its functions not meet expectations, but also the price was quite high. After 20 years, Germany is about to bid farewell to 3G network.

Deutsche Telekom said it would fill the gap of 3G coverage through 4G network, while users without compatible devices would be downgraded to 2G network. For the vast majority of people, this will have no impact. Today, few mobile phones use only 3G. The company also specifically explained that almost all tariffs cover 4G access, which means that existing 3G users do not have to pay additional fees.

In Spain, the 3G network was originally scheduled to be closed around 2020, but considering that the 4G network coverage should be optimized as much as possible before closing the 3G network, the time was delayed. At present, according to the positions of all parties, Spain will not really shut down the 3G network until the 4G network coverage reaches the level of 3G. The time is about 2025.

The 3G network, which has been in service for 20 years, is gradually withdrawing from the historical stage

Vodafone Spain said last year that it would shut down the 3G network from 2022 to 2024, but the company also said that it would not shut down the 3G network until the 4G network covered the whole country.

Movistar, another Spanish operator, made it clear earlier this month that the closure of 3G network will finally be carried out in 2025. The company also plans to complete the optical advance and copper retreat of the whole country in the same year.

At present, more and more operators around the world are shutting down 3G networks. Norwegian Telecom and telia Norway closed their 3G networks in 2018. Executives of Bharti Airtel, an Indian operator, said in June that this work was nearing completion. Telefonica aims to close its Spanish 3G network by 2025. U.S. operators Verizon and at & T plan to disable their 3G networks by the end of 2020 and February 2022, respectively. Australian Telecom and Vodafone Australia will close the 3G network in 2022.

Vacate spectrum for 5g development

At present, the reason why operators close 3G networks is not only that there are few 3G users, but also that they want to vacate spectrum resources and use them for the development of 4G and 5g.

In Germany, the reason why operators want to shut down 3G networks is to plough 900MHz and 2.1GHz frequency bands and apply them to 4G and 5g networks. Dirk wossner, a member of the board of directors and CEO of Deutsche Telekom, made it clear that the company is promoting its 5g deployment in Germany and shutting down 3G networks will make way for “the most modern technology”. Deutsche Telekom revealed in July this year that with the help of dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) technology and low-frequency 700MHz frequency, its 5g signal has covered 40 million people, accounting for about half of the population of Germany. Vodafone Germany aims to cover 10 million people with 5g network by the end of this year and double this number by the end of 2021.

In Spain, Vodafone and other operators also said that the vacated spectrum resources after shutting down the 3G network will make the network have greater capacity and users can enjoy higher speed. Vodafone Spain said that once the 3G network is closed, the 900MHz and 2100mhz bands used by the network will be available for 4G services. Many operators are applying dynamic spectrum sharing technology, so that LTE networks and 5g networks can share spectrum.

Compared with the corporate behavior of other countries, Malaysia has made a plan to stop the 3G gateway from the national level. The prime minister mohidin Yassin previously announced that he plans to close the 3G network by the end of 2021. This is part of the Jendela plan in Malaysia, which aims to upgrade Malaysia’s digital communication infrastructure and prepare for the launch of 5g.

According to the plan, Malaysia will give priority to upgrading broadband and 4G, and close 3G before the end of 2021. The first phase is about to begin. The goal is to increase the population coverage of 4G from 91.8% to 96.9%, increase the fixed broadband rate from 25mbps to 35mbps, and provide Gigabit fixed access to 7.5 million households. At this stage, Malaysia will close the 3G network to release 900MHz and 2.1GHz spectrum to help 4G network expansion and pave the way for 5g. The second phase will start around 2022 and will be “the transition to 5g”. Operators Maxis, cel com, digi, u mobile, Malaysia Telecom and Tim dotcom expressed support for the Jendela plan and said they would cooperate with the government to help create a “globally competitive digital society and economy”.

Mao Xiding said that closing the 3G network is to improve the 4G network, which will become a solid foundation for 5g. Old technologies are often inefficient and cannot provide the same speed and capacity as new technologies. At present, Malaysia’s mobile network coverage needs to be improved. Opensignal’s report shows that in Malaysia, 4G availability is less than 75% in areas with less than 100 people per square kilometer, and only 72.9% of the time can be connected to 3G / 4G networks in areas with less than 10 people per square kilometer.

In the United States, operators have the same considerations. At & T currently has 3G spectrum in 850mhz and 1900MHz frequency bands. The company began relevant planning before 5g network deployment. In January 2017, at & T closed the 2G network, one of the main reasons is to release the spectrum. Referring to the plan to close the 3G network, at & T said: “in order to better support the high data usage on our network, we are phasing out the 3G network to improve the capacity of the next generation technology.”

Verizon, another US operator, also said recently: “almost all Verizon data traffic runs on 4G LTE networks, and only a few customers are still accessing 3G networks.” T-Mobile USA also said: “it will phase out some older technologies… To release more LTE and 5g capacity.”

Today, U.S. operators have taken the first step towards shutting down 3G networks: they no longer activate any 3G devices. This is a common practice in the industry – operators will formulate agreements a few years before the actual network shutdown to urge users to naturally upgrade to devices supporting the new network before the service shutdown.

2G still has living space

Compared with 3G, 2G still seems to have a certain living space. Although most operators said they would shut down 3G networks, most of them chose to keep 2G networks.

Movistar, a Spanish operator, said it did not intend to shut down the 2G network because many devices still rely on 2G networks, such as Internet of things applications. Vodafone said that while shutting down the 3G network, it also made the decision to retain the 2G network.

The reason why 2G network is retained is that there are a large number of applications that rely on 2G, such as M2M and early Internet of things devices, payment terminals, security systems and other GSM based solutions.

Maintaining 2G can also ensure that functional mobile phone users will not be “forgotten”. Despite the popularity of smart phones, a large number of users still use function phones for basic voice calls and SMS communication. According to the latest mobile phone survey report released in 2019, 25.9% of people in Malaysia are still using functional phones, and more than half of people over the age of 50 have not used smartphones. The survey shows that 76.2% of functional mobile phone users are unwilling to change terminals, mainly because functional mobile phones can meet their needs and the cost of smart phones is high.

Nowadays, due to the update of technology, shutting down the old network is becoming the choice of more and more operators. However, in the process of shutting down the old network, operators still need to conduct a comprehensive assessment of benefits and risks. According to the report of Analysys Mason, the global 4G network traffic is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 42% in the next five years. Operators may need to reallocate 2G and 3G spectrum to help meet the growing capacity needs of 4G sites. The increased 4G capacity will improve the customer experience, which will help to acquire and retain users, and contribute to revenue and profit growth. But operators will also face the risk of losing users.

Editor in charge: Tzh

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