When will 2G networks be turned off?

The second generation of the cellular network, 2G, went live in 1993. It introduced many standardised Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) – technologies and was the basis for today’s more sophisticated 3G and 4G networks. 2G was the first network to allow roaming, transfer data and provide digital-voice audio across its network.

The implementation of faster and more efficient 3G and 4G networks have reduced the demand for 2G consumer mobile phone contracts (the key driver of network evolution). Providers have reassessed the need to provide 2G and are gradually decommissioning the 2G network.

Removal of 2G

The first to remove 2G services was Asian service provider KDDI who stopped offering 2G in 2008. Other’s soon followed:

• Japan removed all 2G services in 2012
• South Korean and New Zealand providers began to remove 2G networks in 2012
• Thailand began to phase out 2G in 2013
• Canada’s Manitoba Telecom ended 2G in 2016; Bell and Telus decommissioned 2G services in 2017
• Australian provider Telstra stopped provision in 2016, while Optus and Vodafone Australia followed suit in 2017

Europe has yet to feel the full effect of the 2G phase-out; Swisscom have announced the end of 2G by 2020, while many other European providers, including Vodafone, aim for the end of 2G to occur in 2025. SFR in France will maintain 2G until 2030.

Part of the reason that 2G networks remain is because of the reliance of Internet of Things (IoT) and machine to machine (M2M) devices on a 2G connection to transfer data. In particular the proliferation of smart meters means that 2G will probably be around for the lifetime of the first generation of these devices.

What about 3G?

3G may disappear before 2G due to the fact there is not the same demand for 3G connections for IoT and M2M applications. Telenor Norway intends to keep 2G until 2025; however, it plans to shut down 3G by 2020. Swisscom removed support for the 2100 MHz band on their 3G network in November 2019 leaving only the 900 MHz band.

3G developed upon many of 2G’s capabilities and has been available to the market for a decade. The long-term evolution (LTE) plan has incorporated 4G into many areas of the network where 3G was once the best option. 4G is beneficial as it provides increased speed and higher quality for compatible devices. 3G is slowly becoming obsolete where 4G is available. This is not the case with 2G as many 2G-reliant devices are not compatible with 3G and 4G.

4G has an additional compatibility issue: it does not have a voice channel. When a voice channel is needed, 4G devices convert to use 3G compatibility and place voice calls using 3G networks. This voice capability is critical in the case of emergency calls -including those made from lifts. Complete removal of 2G and 3G, cannot occur until 4G has voice incorporated, or the development of a voice-enabled 5G network is complete.

Summary

Users have, or will, see a reduction in the availability of 2G and 3G solutions. The year 2025 appears to be the end date for most providers including the closure of the 2G network in the UK. The timetables shared here are a guide provided by individual operators.

Future development of products should incorporate these expected changes with products designed to accommodate the eventual elimination of 2G and 3G networks.

If you would like to find out more then please don’t hesitate to contact our team for more information. 

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