Plans to shut down 2G and 3G in South Africa

Switching off South Africa’s 2G and 3G networks will be a challenging feat for the country’s mobile network operators and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).

Operators will have to work with Icasa to streamline the discontinuation of the networks, a process that MTN and Vodacom have said will take a few years.

“This process will be closely managed and communicated by industry stakeholders and is expected to be concluded within the next few years,” Vodacom told MyBroadband.

MTN said that it is considering switching off 3G first.

“We anticipate that it will be several years to come before MTN switches off 2G, taking into consideration the long tail of 2G use, and therefore MTN is considering a 3G turnoff, prior to 2G turnoff in the future,” MTN said.

Telkom told MyBroadband that it has already decommissioned 80% of its 2G network.

“We continue to optimise our spectrum utilisation to ensure efficient use of existing capacity to meet the growing demand for data. Therefore, we continue to re-farm portions of our 2100MHz spectrum for use on LTE,” it added.

2G M2M & IoT module

The primary driver behind the shut down of the 2G and 3G networks in South Africa is reallocating radio frequency spectrum — wireless network capacity — for 4G and 5G.

However, many businesses rely on the 2G network as they use legacy machine-to-machine and Internet of Things systems to operate.

Vodacom told MyBroadband that it uses all means available to move users off legacy technologies in South Africa.

“The discontinuation or reduction in the availability of legacy technology services requires a joint industry-led initiative and regulatory framework to ensure that all South Africans are able to migrate from legacy to newer technologies,” it added.

According to Vodacom, 2G and 3G networks are not efficient when it comes to spectrum resources.

“Legacy technologies such as 2G and 3G are not efficient from a spectrum resource perspective. Valuable spectrum could be better deployed to support modern mobile technologies,” it said.

“Shutting down legacy networks in South Africa will allow more people to become data-enabled as well as to enjoy better voice quality, more data capacity and efficiency on 4G and 5G networks.”

“Notably, the greater spectrum efficiency afforded by newer technologies such as 4G and 5G also helps mobile operators to save operating costs, to the benefit of consumer pricing,” Vodacom added.

Newer technologies such as 4G have become dominant in South Africa.

“Currently, LTE/4G is MTN’s dominant mobile technology, which we expect continue to grow as capable handsets become even more prevalent in the market,” MTN said.

Spectrum allocation

Another driver behind the proposed legacy system shut down is the long-awaited spectrum auction managed by Icasa, currently scheduled for 8 March 2022.

South African network operators have said that whatever additional spectrum they can get their hands on will allow them to improve 4G and 5G coverage and drive down mobile data prices in the country.

“In the absence of new spectrum, and having to use existing spectrum for legacy 2G technology, operators such as Vodacom need to build more base stations to cope with the continued growth in data traffic,” Vodacom said.

The auction — which has been delayed several times, most recently due to legal action — will provide much-needed clarity for South Africa’s mobile network operators, following several extensions of the temporarily allocated spectrum.

“MTN currently supports 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G on the limited spectrum resources assigned, consequently it is of paramount importance that additional high demand spectrum is assigned via the auction process,” MTN said.

Icasa will announce the qualifying bidders on 21 February, and the deadline to apply for licencing of the spectrum is 16:00 on 31 January 2022.

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Plans to shut down 2G and 3G in South Africa