The emergence of the 5G network signified the next and most advanced level of teleconnectivity. Along with the penultimate 4G network, it serves as the most modern network of choice and telecommunications companies around the world have invested heavily in their infrastructure.
Their existence has therefore rendered older generations like 2G and 3G archaic and probably in need of shutting down for good. And this is exactly what is happening in most parts of the world as telcos are beginning to shut down their 3G services.
According to a new report by the GSMA Intelligence’s Spectrum Navigator, an outstanding 22 telcos in Europe have completed the shutting down of 3G networks while 41 others will dismantle theirs by 2030.
GSMA Senior Director and Head of Data Acquisition, Radhika Gupta, explained that many telcos in Europe are switching-off 3G rather than 2G due to a perceived low impact on customer experience on the former. 2G remains active because many public services such as utilities and emergency networks still use it.
Chief networks officer of UK operator BT, Greg McCall, noted that its nationwide 3G network was still consuming a lot of energy despite falling usage.
“3G data use has fallen to record low levels and now accounts for less than 0.6% of all downloaded data on the EE network and just 7% of all voice traffic. Despite its falling usage, 3G accounts for up to 35 per cent of the total power used in our mobile network. Switching it off will save the equivalent of the energy needed to fully charge four billion smartphones,” he said.
But while telcos around the world are in a great hurry to shut down older generations of telecommunications, Nigerian telcos are not in any haste. While one of the important reasons for the haste to shut down 3G in Europe is low usage, in Africa, the major reason for keeping it alive is high usage.
2G and 3G enjoy wide coverage
One of the more important reasons for keeping 2G and 3G alive, at least on the part of the telcos, is the wide coverage it gives them. Certainly, if MTN for instance, has a slogan which says: Everywhere You Go, it wasn’t referring to its 4G or 5G network.
Indeed, the Chief Technical Officer of MTN Nigeria, Mohammed Rufai, speaking on why the telco is not in a rush to shut down the 2G and 3G following the deployment of its 5G network, revealed that 90 per cent of Nigeria’s population has 2G technology, while over 83 per cent of the population has 3G coverage.
According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) quoted in this Punch report, 4G is available to 37 per cent of the Nigerian population as of March 2022. 5G is still very new and does not exist in more than 5 Nigerian cities.
Essentially, the older networks remain the ones with the wider spread and are likely to remain so for a long time. Giving them up might mean giving up their reach for the telcos and that isn’t something they will be in a hurry to do especially with the steep competition currently ongoing in the space.
Another important reason why telcos in Nigeria won’t be in a hurry to shut down the 3G network is its comparatively high usage. Indeed a 2022 report by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (AAI) disclosed that 88 per cent of Nigerians lack access to smartphones with 4G-like speeds for their Internet connection and the capacity to use the Internet on a daily basis.
According to the Alliance, only 12 per cent of Nigerians have access to meaningful connectivity, which pales in comparison with South Africa (13 per cent), but is greater than Ghana (seven per cent).
Indeed, MTN’s CTO, Mohammed Rufai all but confirmed this earlier this year, disclosing that MTN will continue to invest in 3G technology because many Nigerians are yet to upgrade their devices to use 4G or 5G.
He said some of the company’s subscribers are still on 2G and 3G devices and as such, they would not want to cut any of them off by shutting down the old technologies.
“So, while we are investing in new technology, we must also maintain the other technologies that are needed by the people that use them and the people that don’t yet have the devices for the newer technologies.”
While the cost of data remains the same overall, it is obvious that the higher the technology, the more data it tends to consume. But experts have argued that this isn’t necessarily the case as the difference in 4G and 3G technology doesn’t necessarily mean one expends more data per task on the 4G network.
However, because the 4G network offers higher speed, users are more likely to engage in increased online activity, like accessing more websites, visiting more social media pages, watching more videos online etc. All of these activities directly impact the amount of mobile data consumed.
However it may be, users on the newer generations of networks spend more at the end of the day. This would not go down well for a Nigerian population for whom the minimum wage is N30,000 and for whom a smartphone is still a luxury. They would rather stick to their feature phones and enjoy 3G while praying for better days.
Another important reason why telcos won’t be in a hurry to completely decommission their 3G network is that the 3G spectrum can also be converted to provide 4G and 5G services. So rather than shut them down, it makes more sense to maintain and keep investing in them until such a time when they can be converted to the high classes.
Explaining further, Mohammed Rufai said, “the license allocated by NCC, and the network resources and infrastructure that are used for 3G can also be used on other technologies in the future, so the investment is still usable for the higher technologies when the devices are ready.”
The cost of 5G spectrum is $273.6m. This is not inclusive of other attendant infrastructure. If the cost of such investment could be reduced in the future by converting the spectra of older generation networks, it is probably a cost-cutting strategy telcos will be only too happy to embrace.
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