South Africa’s mobile network operators are hoping to shut down their 2G and 3G networks to keep up with the demand for data.
However, decommissioning South Africa’s legacy networks will be no small task.
With the United States’ major 3G networks all scheduled to be offline by the end of 2022, MyBroadband asked South African operators about their plans regarding legacy networks.
MTN South Africa said it is aligned with global trends to shut down 2G and 3G.
“MTN SA plans to shut down its 3G in the medium term, followed by 2G,” the operator said.
“The exact timelines are being determined, and this depends on several factors that MTN will monitor closely.”
Vodacom has also indicated its plans to turn off its 2G network by 2024.
Vodacom previously told MyBroadband that machine-to-machine and IoT customers still rely on 2G networks to continue functioning.
Cell C Chief Technology Officer Schalk Visser noted that prices of 4G and 5G-compatible devices were another significant barrier.
“A key consideration in moving from older technologies like 2G and 3G to newer, more efficient technologies like 4G and 5G is the availability of affordable consumer devices,” he said
MTN agreed that smartphones capable of supporting voice over LTE functionality are essential for a smooth transition.
MTN explained that consumer education, including correct SIM and device settings, is important to successfully move customers over to newer network technologies.
As South Africa sees an unprecedented surge of bandwidth-heavy applications and services, committing to 4G and 5G is crucial.
“The benefits of switching off 3G include the option to re-farm the spectrum to more spectrally efficient technologies,” MTN said.
Until recently, mobile operators’ only choice to increase network capacity was to build additional base stations.
Vodacom said this was one of the biggest barriers to reducing mobile data prices.
South Africa’s recent spectrum auction, where industry regulator Icasa released substantial bandwidth, will allow operators to increase network capacity at existing base stations.
Shutting down 2G and 3G will additionally allow operators to redirect funds it was spending to maintain these networks to improve 4G and 5G coverage.
Vodacom said that this, in turn, will improve customers’ experiences with voice and data services that use these modern technologies.
Although March’s spectrum auction might have relieved network capacity constraints somewhat, MTN CEO Ralph Mupita expects that operators will need even more spectrum soon.
“The spectrum auction helps a bit. What we secured now will help us for the next three or four years,” Mupita said.