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

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 (9:27 am) - Score 5,080
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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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Mark Jackson
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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8 Responses
  1. Avatar 3G Infinity

    I would concur that 3G should be retired asap as it now looks to be not as efficient as everyone predicted on data, though on voice it beats 2G hands down. The current 4G handset penetration could be an issue here though.

    For 2G, there is also the fact that it is deterministic with fixed channels and very efficient at supporting IoT and M2M applications, whereas 4G IoT will be costly day one and could cause issues with scheduling overheads.

  2. The network operators should just merge all of there masts into one overall company, so they can operate as a stand alone provider.

    Then each of the three networks in the UK (soon to be three) should own an equal share of the new combined mobile mast network, and then each invest the same amount of money each year.

    This will then increase coverage across the country, and speed up the deployment of new services.

    And probably save money in the long run as well.

    But I do agree 3g should be switched off, but perhaps keep the 2g network switched on for SMS and voice calls only.

  3. Avatar gerarda

    As 3G never reached us from any operator it would not be missed and 2G coverage is patchy at best but I am somewhat sceptical that 4G even if it gets here will ever be good enough here for our indoor voice calls.

    • Avatar Phil Coates

      Same here, no 1G, 2G or 3G unless I stand in the middle of one of my fields. 4G is pipe dream.

  4. Avatar Paul

    Isn’t the whole smart meter project based around 2G? If the networks decide to shut down the 2G networks would that have an adverse cost implication to the meter hardware?

  5. Avatar dave

    Once there is VoLTE available on all networks and on frequencies that have great signal such as 600-800mhz then 4g will be usable for calls. Having it on 1900mhz results in poor signal in many areas and in buildings. The other problem is that android only just added volte support in android 5.1 so hardly any android phones support it. Apple only added it recently in ios too. It will be many years until 90% of the population has a phone that is capable of volte. I have a 4g phone but it only has android 4.4 on it so i’m out of luck.

  6. Avatar PeterM

    Unless 4G can match the coverage of 2G in all areas there is no way it should be withdrawn from service.
    Adam is certainly correct that the masts should be combined into one network.
    Never forget that this is a public service and it is the duty of the providers to optimize it to the best of their technical ability.

  7. Avatar Matt

    I imagine 3G will be turned off before 2G is because with 4G, 3G really isn’t that useful to have at all. Where as 2G can serve as voice backup and low powered for various devices.

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