Tuesday, June 16, 2015

SingTel et al to Disconnect 2G by 2017: My Take

With the massive growth on 4G-LTE platform, operators across the globe are planning for a opt-out from old technology based services. As per GSA report, there are 635 million LTE subscription worldwide in the Q1 of 2015 - that is equivalent to an impressive 151.4% annual growth.

On 15th June, 2015 Singtel, M1 and StarHub - the three mobile carriers of Singapore jointly announced that they will stop offering 2G services w.e.f April 1, 2017. Presently only 2.5 mobile users in Singapore use 2G services. The carriers told that 2G spectrum will be refarmed for more data friendly 3G & 4G services. They will offer smooth transition for 2G to 3G/4G.

Singapore can do that as there 4G coverage is near to 100%, thanks to the compact geographical area of the country. Not only that operators need more 1800MHz for robust LTE coverage.


Well this trend is not a new thought. In South Korea and Japan retiring 2G network was started way back in 2007-08. In 2012 UK operators - EE, O2, Vodafone and Three UK had made plans to move out from 2G while their 3G and 4G network coverage becomes robust. US carrier AT&T announced their ''2G-Sunset'' plan back in February 2014. AT&T has a FAQ pdf for that : www.business.att.com/content/other/2G_Sunset_FAQs_2014_A1.pdf

Around 1 year back Australian telecom major Telstra announced their plan to close the 2G (GSM) network by the end of 2016. Mike Wright, Networks, Group Managing Director of Telstra explained this as 'It's time to say goodbye old friend'. He also pointed out that 2G traffic accounts for less than 1 per cent of Telstra's total network traffic and they have not sold a 2G phone for several years. Telstra rolled out 3G in 2006.

In a different note, Telenor, Norway Telecom major has planned for early killing of 3G by 2020 while 2G will be live for another 5 years in its home. Their plan to kill 3G comes with the fact that Norway's population is moving to 4G in a very fast pace. Telenor also said about deploying a technology on LTE which will allow narrow band LTE roll out with limited spectrum. With presence in many developing countries like India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, Telenor is always looking for disruptive and price-sensitive productline.

Well if you see all the developments you can find that all these operators who are opting out from a relatively older technology has some back up with 3G or 2G (as Telenor has), which has a robust network coverage as 4G coverage yet has few 'notspots'.

In India existing operators are yet to bring total coverage on 2G. And 3G coverage even in metro cities are not adequate for customers. So Indian operators are not thinking about closing down 2G services. However M2M services (like shopping at physical stores with your debit/credit cards) are completely depended on 2G services in India. So operators can't loose enterprise customers.

Indian operators simply don't have the luxury to shut down 2G - because voice is their bread and butter both. Also they invested lot on 3G - in simple business case they can't loose money on 3G. Globally 3G/HSPA is still getting investments despite the fact that LTE is growing in a mega scale.

GSA confirms 3G investments continuing - more than 80% operators continue their 3G investments. 

Key Facts:
* 600 HSPA operator network commitments in 217 countries/territories
* 582 commercially launched networks in 216 countries
* ALL of the world's WCDMA operators have commercially launched HSPA service
* Over 69% of HSPA operators have commercially launched HSPA+ systems
* 404 HSPA+ networks are commercially launched in 168 countries
* 182 DC-HSPA+ networks i.e. over 31% of all HSPA networks are commercially launched in 92 countries
* One 63 Mbps 3C-HSPA+ network has commercially launched (in Turkey)
* Most 3G/HSPA systems use 2.1 GHz spectrum (3GPP band 1). However UMTS900 is also mainstream: 96 operators in 60 countries commercially launched UMTS900 in either a sing le band or multiband network deployment

There were over 1.83 billion WCMDA-HSPA subscriptions globally by Q4 2014. Total 3G connections globally are expected to exceed LTE up until 2020. Growing voice traffic relies on 3G as VoLTE solutions are still maturing. More than 80% of operators continue 3G investments. Top feature upgrades are DC-HSPA+ (downlink and uplink) smartphone features (CPC & E-FACH). 3C-HSPA+ (63 Mbps) deployments have begun.

But, Reliance Jio who is going to launch 4G services in a massive scale commercially by Decemeber 2015 is going to skip 3G and will focus only on 4G. I am eagerly waiting to see Jio's execution plans. In a smaller manner, Telenor may also go in this way - skip 3G, use 4G on its existing 1800Mhz band.


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