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Ovum Predicts Mobile Operators Could Switch Off 2G and 3G by 2020

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 (9:27 am) - Score 5,265

Telecoms analysts at Ovum have claimed that Mobile Network Operators, such as Three UK, Vodafone, EE and O2 in the United Kingdom, could potentially cut costs and adopt a pure 4G (LTE) focus by switching off their legacy 2G and 3G platforms by 2020. But it might not be quite so simple.

The 2nd Generation (2G) mobile phone systems, which are predominantly voice and text focused with some very slow data capabilities (GPRS, EDGE etc.), first emerged in the United Kingdom during the early 1990’s and even the first generation iPhone depended upon it.

More than 20 years later and the 2G standard is still in use, thanks largely to its low power operation and good low frequency coverage in rural areas, as well as the problems of delivering voice communications over the newest 4G platforms (VoLTE is only now starting to very slowly resolve this).

Similarly the more data focused 3G networks, which turned Mobile Broadband into a viable and affordable service via standards like UMTS and HSPA, didn’t arrive until the turn of the millennium and initially launched with top data speeds of 384Kbps (0.38Mbps). But today some 3G networks can deliver speeds of up to around 20Mbps to ordinary consumers, although you’d be very lucky to receive that.

Meanwhile the latest generation of 4G networks, which began their deployment in October 2012, are still being rolled out to around 99% of the population and that should complete by 2017 at the latest. But come 2020 and Ovum thinks we might be saying goodbye to the old 2G and 3G stalwarts.

Ovum Principal Analyst, Nicole McCormick, said:

The majority of operators are not in a position today to close their legacy networks, nor will they be in the next 1–2 years. Rather, operators are deciding how to best manage a transition towards full network closure, given that M2M, voice, and roaming revenue cannibalization remains a pertinent issue. We don’t expect networks to be retired en masse until closer to 2020.

Ovum believes that in some markets 3G networks may see closure before 2G ones. 2G is still an important source of revenue. LTE provides a better mobile broadband experience than 3G, and with VoLTE, LTE can handle the voice responsibilities of 3G. This points to the possibility that operators opt to close their 3G networks before they close 2G.”

Eventually 2G and 3G networks will probably be retired, although we strongly suspect that the mobile operators won’t be confident enough to make a decision about that until after the 4G deployment is completed. Even then it may be a slow withdrawal in order to avoid creating any coverage gaps or causing too much frustration for consumers with older handsets.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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