Time running out for 2G and 3G in SA but feature phones still sell

2G and 3G feature phones remain popular in South Africa despite government’s plan to shut down the country’s legacy networks.

Two mobile operators — MTN and Cell C — told MyBroadband that affordability is the primary driver behind the popularity of these devices.

South African residents can grab a 2G feature phone for as little as R129 and a 3G-capable handset for R299, a recent MyBroadband analysis revealed.

In comparison, the cheapest 4G-capable phone in South Africa costs R579, meaning those who don’t require 4G connectivity can save a fair amount by opting for a 2G or 3G phone.

MTN SA says this is one of the primary reasons feature phones are still prevalent in South Africa.

“Affordability remains the most pressing consideration in the popularity of feature phones in South Africa,” it told MyBroadband.

“We have also observed a consumer trend that sees users holding both a smartphone and feature phone — where the feature phone acts as a backup option for the user, particularly while consumers are travelling.”

Cell C view echoes MTN. However, it noted that the feature phone space has seen a marginal decline in the South African market.

“The telco industry still has a significant number of customers that own feature phones,” said Cell C.

“It still represents a key contribution to the ability of South African consumers to access basic communication as many still have a price challenge with the affordability of smartphone devices.”

However, it added that affordability is not the only driver behind South Africans opting for feature phones; other aspects, such as preferring simplicity, drive some sales.

“Besides economic conditions and affordability, there are other aspects that impact the use of feature phones,” said Cell C.

“These include preference as some people are looking for simplicity, long battery life, or as backup devices, unaffordability of smartphones and digital literacy in using the advanced features of smartphones remain a barrier to many.”

MyBroadband also asked Telkom and Vodacom for comment, but they had not answered our questions before publication.

Legacy network shutdown in South Africa

South Africa’s planned legacy network shutdown timeline has set June 2024 and March 2025 as the deadline for switching off the country’s 2G and 3G networks.

However, the government has already missed several deadlines, so it wouldn’t be surprising if these dates changed.

Cabinet approved the final Next Generation Radio Frequency Spectrum Policy for publication on 1 December 2023 — two months past the document’s official publication deadline.

Government had already missed the 30 June 2023 deadline for prohibiting the licencing of 2G devices, and following the cabinet’s publication approval for the policy document, it appears to have missed its 31 December 2023 deadline for prohibiting new 2G connections and device activations.

Despite the delays and missed deadlines, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies hasn’t released an updated plan for shutting down 2G and 3G services and networks in South Africa.

An updated timeline for the shutdown of South Africa’s legacy networks is provided in the table below.

Deadline 2G 3G
30 June 2023 Prohibit licensing 2G devices
30 September 2023 Final next-generation spectrum policy (Cabinet approved: 1 December 2023)
31 December 2023 Prohibit new connections or activation of 2G devices
31 March 2024 Shutdown of 2G services Prohibit licensing 3G devices
30 June 2024 Shutdown of 2G networks
30 September 2024 Prohibit new connections or activation of 3G devices
31 December 2024 Shutdown of 3G services
30 March 2025 Shutdown of 3G networks
The deadlines marked in red were not met as planned.

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Time running out for 2G and 3G in SA but feature phones still sell