2G & 3G switch off in South Africa

Modified on Thu, 30 May 2024 at 04:19 PM

[As at June 2024]

As new technologies and spectrum bands are enabled, we often get asked when older services (such as 2G & 3G) will be throttled, switched off or retired. With 4G and 5G being steadily deployed globally, the process of retiring 2G and 3G networks is well underway in many countries and regions. Millions of IoT devices globally will need to be transitioned to LTE, 5G & NB-IoT spectrum. 

Mobile networks do not usually disclose "official" plans on when 2G or 3G services will be sunset, until the decision is formalised, after which they will give a few months notice. These timelines must also be approved and announced by the regulator (ICASA). In reality, 2G and 3G spectrum will be actively re-farmed over time to drive growth in 4G & 5G services. 

Future-proofing hardware modem modules, for example 2G & NB-IoT or 2G & LTE becomes an important decision for new device deployments. The current advice by mobile networks around modem and chipset choices is to rather use 4G or NB-IoT, and where possible, to use modules that have fallback to 2G/3G. This will allow for full functionality during the transition.

The South African Government has announced their plan to prohibit licensing of 2G and 3G devices as part of their next-generation radio frequency spectrum draft policy. The policy also sets out the planned shutdown of 2G & 3G networks. This is still to be published as a formal policy but the draft proposes the following:

  • Communications regulator Icasa must stop approving 2G- and 3G-only devices (mainly cellphones) by no later than 30 September 2024.
  • Network operators, in turn, must stop activating 2G- and 3G- only devices by 31 December 2024, meaning that from January 2025, no devices that are not capable of at least connecting to a 4G/LTE network may be added to their networks.
  • Network operators must then commence with a shutdown of their legacy 2G and 3G infrastructure from 1 June 2025.
  • A total shutdown of 2G and 3G networks must be completed by no later than 31 December 2027.


How to minimise the effects of 2G & 3G sunset on your IoT device deployments

2G networks typically have been in commercial operation for more than two decades and have offered an unparalleled platform for deploying national and international high-quality IoT solutions. Many IoT solutions have long lifecycles often of a decade or more which means there are still large volumes of devices that are 2G-only. Therefore, action needs to be taken to ensure continued operation of IoT applications as 2G and 3G networks are being sunset.

Once a 2G or a 3G sunset takes place devices that are built for 2G or 3G will become completely inoperable. This will lead to customers suffering and this may also happen when a service transitions to an alternative network technology. The move will involve new software and hardware and cause downtime, even in phased roll-outs so careful planning is essential to minimise impacts on customers and on the service and business reputation.

There are many examples of transitions that have not gone smoothly. One municipal transport system in San Francisco experienced a fortnight of business interruption because it relied on the 2G network beyond its sunset date, even though it had been given five years of notice of the upcoming sunset.

This highlights the complex inter-relationships in IoT between network, hardware and software and demonstrates that moving on from 2G and 3G is not always a simple upgrade path.

Suggested approach

A first step should be to review the installed base to understand what devices need to be upgraded and to create the right strategy for cost efficient transition.

Next, selecting sufficiently future-proofed hardware to improve the chances of benefiting from upcoming technical innovations should be a priority. There are several alternatives to 2G and 3G that are available or soon to be offered and the relative merits of these should be carefully assessed, alongside the likely software and hardware developer ecosystem – it’s not productive to choose a technology that nobody is developing devices or apps for.

Given that the shutdown affects a substantial number of currently operating devices, steps should be taken to prevent similar situations arising in the future. It makes little sense to migrate from 2G to 3G for this reason, so assess carefully the expected lifespan of the technology you select alongside the deployment duration you are planning.

The sunset of 2G and 3G has not been an overnight, unexpected development and the cellular industry has created replacement technologies that offer good alternatives to common IoT connectivity needs. These take the form of 4G and 5G networks but also technologies that have been designed specifically for IoT devices. These technologies, narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE-M, were created to support the needs of IoT applications that are low cost, consume less data, have long battery lives and can operate in locations that are hard to reach, such as in remote areas or underground.

These capabilities will open up opportunities for new applications in agriculture, utilities, logistics and other industries. Moreover, as 2G and 3G networks are being phased out globally, NB-IoT and LTE-M are the most apparent replacements.

Latest Media Articles on the topic: 

- https://techcentral.co.za/minister-2g-3g-shutdown-south-africa/245504/

- https://mybroadband.co.za/news/cellular/523884-south-african-mobile-networks-detail-plans-to-switch-off-2g-and-3g.html

- https://mybroadband.co.za/news/cellular/514061-south-africas-2g-and-3g-shutdown-plans-up-in-the-air.html

- https://mybroadband.co.za/news/cellular/493935-south-africas-2g-and-3g-shutdown-plans-hit-a-snag.html

- https://mybroadband.co.za/news/telecoms/460427-battle-brewing-over-2g-and-3g-shutdown-in-south-africa.html

- https://www.news24.com/fin24/companies/telkom-hits-back-at-govts-plan-to-shut-down-3g-by-2025-20220912

- https://www.connectingafrica.com/author.asp?doc_id=780263&itc=newsletter_connectingafricainsights&utm_source=newsletter_connectingafrica_connectingafricainsights&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=09092022

- https://mybroadband.co.za/news/cellular/459343-south-africas-proposed-plan-to-shut-down-2g-and-3g-including-banning-2g-devices.html

- https://mybroadband.co.za/news/cellular/431192-plans-to-shut-down-2g-and-3g-in-south-africa.html

- https://mybroadband.co.za/news/business-telecoms/324390-vodacom-wants-to-turn-off-2g-in-5-years.html

- https://businesstech.co.za/news/telecommunications/334999/vodacom-wants-to-turn-off-its-2g-service-in-south-africa/ 

- https://techcentral.co.za/vodacom-joins-telkom-in-looking-to-life-beyond-2g/91829/

- https://itweb.africa/content/kLgB1Me8N2E759N4  

- https://www.iol.co.za/business-report/companies/vodacom-plans-to-switch-off-its-2g-network-coverage-to-expand-4g-services-30840423 

- https://www.iol.co.za/capeargus/news/vodacom-eager-to-reduce-2g-network-to-aid-with-5g-rollout-37182893 


(On the other side of the, um, spectrum... For information about NB-IoT adoption and rollout please see this article)


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