South Africans can kiss 2G and 3G phones goodbye

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) has set September 2024 as the deadline for prohibiting the type approval of 2G and 3G-only devices in South Africa.

The department published the Next-Generation Radio Frequency Spectrum policy in the Government Gazette on Tuesday, 28 May 2024. It outlines preliminary shutdown dates for South Africa’s 2G and 3G networks.

The prohibition of type approval will mean that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) will no longer type-approve new 2G and 3G-only devices.

However, those already approved in South Africa can still legally be imported and sold locally.

The next deadline is the prohibition of activating 2G and 3G-only devices on South African networks, set for 31 December 2024.

When this deadline hits, mobile network operators in the country will no longer activate such devices on their networks.

After that, South African mobile network operators will begin shutting down their 2G and 3G networks from 1 June 2025. However, it is unclear which will go first.

“The sequencing for sunsetting of 2G and 3G networks and their related dates will be determined by the Authority subject to conducting an economic and regulatory impact assessment,” the notice reads.

The networks must be completely switched off by 31 December 2027.

The DCDT revealed the new shutdown dates in February 2024. However, it didn’t mention deadlines for the prohibition of type approval and activation of 2G and 3G-only devices.

The final shutdown date of 31 December 2027 represents a two-year extension past the previous deadline.

Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, former Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies

It had previously planned to shut down the 2G network by June 2024 and the 3G network by March 2025. The deadlines were set by former communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

The department previously told MyBroadband that mobile network operators would decide which network to shut down first.

“The commencement for the shutdown of the 2G and 3G services is 1 June 2025. This deadline is meant to allow mobile network operators some level of discretion and for them to decide which network to switch off first,” it said.

“Some operators have indicated that they will commence with the shut down of 3G in June 2024 in support of the policy.”

“The total shutdown of the 2G and 3G networks is scheduled for 31 December 2027,” it added.

However, the department noted that the dates depend on a risk impact assessment study to be published within a year of the final publication of the next-generation radio frequency spectrum policy.

“Subsequent to the spectrum policy that was published in September 2022, the Department received substantive inputs from the public including industry members and services sectors,” it said.

“The Minister took into consideration public comments and inputs that requested an amendment to the timelines for the shutdown of the 2G and 3G networks.”

This suggests that the shutdown extension may have come due to stakeholder requests.

MyBroadband recently spoke to MTN, Telkom, and Vodacom about their plans to switch off their 2G and 3G networks.

Vodacom said it was working with all stakeholders to transition from 2G and 3G devices to 4G smartphones.

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

MTN and Telkom had very different views on how to approach the shutdowns.

Telkom said it had already taken steps to phase out 2G connectivity, adding that it currently doesn’t carry any 2G traffic.

“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,” it 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,” it said.

MTN said that while it fully supports the plan to deactivate the networks, it wants to ensure minimal impact on its customers.

It added that it is currently migrating customers from its 3G to its 4G and 5G networks.

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.

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South Africans can kiss 2G and 3G phones goodbye