South Africa will ban the importation and distribution of 2G devices by end-February 2023, communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has announced.
Speaking at the 2022 World Telecommunication Development Conference in Kigali, Rwanda, Ntshavheni said the ban would help South Africa shut down its 2G and 3G networks by 2025.
This is to enable a robust programme to modernise South Africa’s networks, Ntshavheni stated.
She said South Africa’s mobile network operators would fully deploy 4G and 5G networks by 2025.
The minister explained that these moves complement SA Connect, South Africa’s broadband connectivity drive.
“The goal of SA Connect is to ensure that all South Africans have access to the internet by 2024,” said Ntshavheni, adding that the programme is driven through four initiatives.
Among these is satellite communication, with Ntshavheni announcing that South Africa is ready to launch its own satellite.
“The satellite will address both media and broadband connectivity objectives and will entrench our technology and data sovereignty,” she said.
SA Connect’s other three initiatives all centre around connectivity at publicly-owned facilities.
First, South Africa has imposed social obligations on mobile network operators to connect all public schools, health facilities, public libraries, government service centres, and traditional authorities by end-June 2025.
These obligations are attached to spectrum licences that the operators bid on in the March spectrum auction, which raised close to R14.5 billion for South Africa’s national fiscus.
Second, SA Connect aims to connect all remaining government sites by end-March 2024.
“This target is critical for our programme to digitalise government,” Ntshavheni stated.
“The digitalisation programme aims to have 80% of our citizen-facing services to be online by 2025, with government planning to go paperless by end March 2023.”
Thirdly, the government aims to roll out 33,000 community Wi-Fi hotspots to provide Internet connectivity to over 5.8 million households.
“With the rapid growth of Wi-Fi in complementing and offloading mobile data traffic from fixed broadband, there is a growing need for the ITU to consider more protection of spectrum use for Wi-Fi services, including possible licensing of Wi-Fi spectrum,” Ntshavheni said.
The World Telecommunication Development Conference is held by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
“The broadband connectivity programme will be implemented through emerging and Small and Medium Enterprises such as Internet service providers, wireless access providers, and mobile virtual network operators,” said Ntshavheni.
“Our intention is to create a new technology industry. For this programme, the South African government will invest over R2.5 billion over a 36 months period.”
Switching off 2G and 3G no small task
MTN has said that it will likely switch off its 3G network before it can decommission 2G. Its 2G network remains in wide use for machine-to-machine applications.
Vodacom previously announced plans to turn off its 2G network by 2024.
However, Cell C has said the prices of 4G and 5G-compatible devices were a significant barrier to switching off older network technologies.
In 2021, Vodacom called for regulatory intervention to stop the sale of cheap 2G-only cellphones in South Africa.
These devices are sold through independent retail chains such as PEP, Ackermans, and Mr Price.
This week, Mr Price announced that its telecoms segment revenue exceeded a billion rand for the first time — growing 34% year-on-year to R1.2 billion.
Government’s crackdown on 2G devices in South Africa could significantly impact the performance of these successful independent cellular retailers.