South African mobile networks detail plans to switch off 2G and 3G

South African mobile operators Vodacom, MTN, and Telkom support the planned deactivation of the country’s 2G and 3G networks, provided it is done without leaving residents without a means of connection.

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) recently extended the deadline for shutting down the country’s 2G and 3G networks.

The switch-off is now scheduled to commence from 1 June 2025, with the final date for the total shutdown being 31 December 2027.

It had previously planned to have networks switch off their 2G networks by 30 June 2024 and 3G networks by the end of March 2025.

When the DCDT notified MyBroadband of the shutdown extension, it said mobile operators could decide which of their networks to switch off first.

MyBroadband asked the country’s major networks about their plans to switch off these legacy communication services.

A Vodacom spokesperson said that the company was working with all stakeholders regarding the transition from legacy technology devices to 4G smartphones.

“Government plays a key role in guiding this transition. The first step in the process involves managing the inflow of 2G and 3G devices into the country,” they said.

“We are supportive of government more tightly controlling imports and type approval of such devices”.

MTN and Telkom had very different views on the process.

The former had favoured a 3G switch-off first, while the latter wanted the government to extend the 3G switch-off deadline.

With the department now permitting mobile networks to choose which services to switch off first, this is no longer a point of contention.

Telkom said it has already taken steps to phase out 2G connectivity and added that it currently doesn’t carry any 2G traffic on its network.

“We acknowledge that legacy technologies have to be switched off but this has to be carried out in a responsible manner to ensure that we don’t leave the poor and some rural communities without connectivity or negatively impact some services,” Telkom said.

“However, we still carry a significant portion of voice traffic on 3G and switching this technology off in an unmanaged manner will have an impact on some of our customers.”

Telkom argued the original deadline to switch off 3G by 2025 would leave a significant proportion of the population unconnected.

“The cost of 4G and 5G devices keeps them out of reach for most South Africans,” the company said.

MTN South Africa told MyBroadband that it fully supported South Africa’s plan to deactivate the networks but said it wants to do it while ensuring “minimal impact on valued customers”.

“MTN SA is actively transitioning customers from 3G to advanced 4G and 5G networks in line with the DCDT’s guidelines and our own Ambition 2025 strategy,” it said.

However, it anticipates that it will only finalise the transitioning of its customers to newer technologies by the end of 2025.

“The migration of 2G services will follow but is not in MTN’s immediate plans,” it added.

MTN said 4G and 5G technologies offer more efficient and reliable connectivity than 2G and 3G, giving customers a better experience.

“We anticipate continued growth in LTE [4G] predominance over legacy technologies as 4G and 5G capable handsets become more prevalent in the market,” it said.

The latest timeline for the shutdown of South Africa’s legacy networks is provided in the table below. Upcoming deadlines that were amended are marked in yellow. Already-missed deadlines are marked in red.

Deadline 2G 3G
1 December 2023 Original deadline: Publication of final next-generation spectrum policy
(Cabinet approved: 29 November 2023. New publication deadline unclear)
31 December 2023 Prohibit new connections or activation of 2G devices
31 March 2024 Shutting down 2G services Prohibit licencing 3G devices
30 June 2024 Shutting down 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
1 June 2025 New deadline: Commence with shutting down 2G and 3G networks
31 December 2027 New deadline: Total shutdown of 2G and 3G networks

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South African mobile networks detail plans to switch off 2G and 3G