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2G and 3G network switch-off creates a minefield for product development

JUN 24, 2020 | Matt Arnott
region: ALL sector: ALL Internet of Things Hyperconnectivity

2G and 3G network switch-off represents a headache for anyone developing connected IoT products. Developers need to know which networks will be available in which territories and for how long. Without this they risk either seeing their devices disconnected or they will see a higher bill of materials (BOM) cost from over-specifying their devices to ensure redundancy. In a recent report ‘A global overview of planned 2G and 3G switch-off’ I catalogued the confirmed shutdown strategies for 2G and 3G networks from mobile network operators across the globe and provided an overview for the rationale behind different strategies.

Ever increasing demand for mobile data has forced MNOs to assess the viability of their older networks. Many operators have chosen to shutter their least used, older networks in order to refarm spectrum for 4G and 5G networks. The growing number of switch-off announcements from across the globe suggest that 2G and 3G networks are reaching the end of their lifespan. However, this will not be true in all markets. Local influences and requirements may cause legacy networks to exist for many years to come. Planning for a changing network environment now may incur short term costs but prove invaluable in the long run.

In many developed nations, 2G and 3G customers now represent a small fraction of an MNO’s total customer base. It is no coincidence that legacy networks are being switched off as 5G network rollouts accelerate. Shutting down 2G and/or 3G will open up the use of much needed spectrum for 4G and 5G networks whilst having a minimal impact on existing revenue streams. In some instances, a dearth of residual customers on legacy networks has caused maintenance costs to outweigh revenue. This will vary on an operator-by-operator basis. MNOs’ strategies depend heavily on their customer base and there is no guarantee that one operator’s approach would be appropriate for another.

Less developed countries will be less likely to witness network switch offs in the next ten years. There is more of a requirement to sweat the installed 2G and 3G networks for longer and roll outs of 4G and 5G networks will be slower. There are also fewer smartphone users, and more customers reliant on 2G and 3G handsets.

Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the US have been in the forefront of switch-off plans. In Europe the picture is more fragmented with particular relevancet being given to large scale IoT deployments. China is equally mixed but there has been a strong push for NB-IoT as a replacement for the other technologies. The other giant market, India, is as yet not particularly focused on formal switchoff, although in large part this is due to the de facto switch to LTE networks courtesy of Reliance Jio’s success. For more on Reliance Jio, see our recent report ‘Why are web-scalers suddenly obsessed with the Indian mobile market?’ All of the current plans and historic switch-off activities are catalogued in the report.