Getting ready for 2G and 3G switch-offs

From: techUK
Published: Fri Feb 10 2023

Ofcom recently released in a new document its expectations of MNOs over how they handle the sunsetting of the 2G and 3G phone networks.This comes in the context of the switch-off of the old analog phone network, the PSTN, due to be completed by December 2025.

What is the 2G/3G sunsetting?

2G was introduced in the 1990s to allow digital voice calls and SMS, while 3G enabled mobile data for the first time. The 2G and 3G phone networks are legacy technologies, which are increasingly expensive to maintain and inefficient from an energy perspective.

The move is expected to not only free up spectrum for 5G and future networks such as 6G but will also help the UK achieve its net zero target.

The 3G network has recently been sunsetted in the USA, and 2G has been switched off in Switzerland.

In the UK, 2G will be switched off by 2033, but 3G will be sunsetted sooner. Vodafone will begin switching off their 3G network this month, other networks have later deadlines in the next couple of years, all of which can be found at the Ofcom website.

Why does this matter?

Most mobile phones currently in use are 4G and 5G capable, and therefore will not be affected by the switch-off. There are, however, certain use cases or situations where customers and suppliers need to be aware of the switch-off.

6% of UK mobile customers have phones only capable of 3G or 2G. The switch off of 3G will not render a 3G-capable mobile useless with most mobile providers, as it will still be able to make calls and send SMS messages on the 2G network. However, customers will not be able to use the mobile data services 3G enables. Customers on Three 3 and i D Mobile will also have to switch to a 4G-capable device to continue using phone calls and SMS services, as 3 Three does not have a 2G network to migrate users to.

The 2G switch-off meanwhile will require customers to obtain 4G devices to continue using mobile services.

There are certain devices, including smart meters, payment terminals, security alarms and telecare devices that use the 3G or 2G network, and these will have to be upgraded. VMO2, who currently provide connectivity to smart meters, has no 3G sunsetting plans as of now, and there are plans for a 4G upgrade. Certain use cases meanwhile, such as the video relay service used to make emergency calls, that work on 3G will require a device capable of 4G connectivity to operate in future.

Ofcom's expectations

Ofcom is not involved in managing the sunsetting, but it has set out four key expectations of MNOs for the upcoming transition in order to protect consumers.

1. Minimise Coverage Impact

2. Contractual information about any switch-off must be provided

3. MNOs must clearly communicate with and provide support to customers

4. MNOs should identify services relying on their 2G and 3G mobile networks

Ofcom expects that the switch-off should create no gaps in the depth or breadth of mobile coverage. This includes in both the 4G services that will replace 2G and 3G, as well as the 2G services that may be relied upon after the 3G switch-off by customers yet to migrate.

Ofcom will also monitor the sunsetting process, and will use these expectations as part of their monitoring criteria. This includes monitoring the sunsetting in concurrence with the PSTN-switch off, to ensure that devices relying on the analog phone network are not replaced with 3G or 2G devices that will need replacing.

Company: techUK

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