While international network operators may consider switching off their 2G and 3G networks in the near future, this is not viable in South Africa.
“I cannot see us switching off 2G even in the long term,” said Vodacom chief technology officer Andries Delport.
He said Vodacom has around 30 million devices active on its network every month, of which 40%-45% are 2G-only.
Around 8 million devices on its network are “green screen” phones – low cost or old devices handed down from one person to the next – said Delport.
Although switching off 2G would free up valuable network capacity in the form of radio frequency spectrum, which could be used for their LTE and 4G network, Delport said the argument is academic.
The data performance on 2G is pathetic, and even though switching it off is a wonderful idea from a technical perspective, it is impractical, he said.
Delport said that in addition to Vodacom’s South African subscribers, there are a lot of roaming customers from elsewhere in Africa who use 2G-only devices.
Vodacom’s head of innovation Jannie van Zyl said that systems like vehicle trackers and point-of-sale devices also rely on 2G networks – and replacing entrenched devices would be a massive undertaking.
These market forces will ensure 2G networks in South Africa continue to be maintained for a long time.
Delport said it is more likely they will switch off 3G and migrate those clients to LTE before they switch off the 2G network.
Cheap 4G phones
Qualcomm has identified the issue of widespread low-cost 2G-only phone usage in countries like South Africa, and recently launched its 205 Mobile Platform – which it said will bring LTE connectivity to entry-level feature phones.
Qualcomm expects feature phones which support LTE to become available before the end of 2017, which the company hopes will sell for around R350.