In September 2022, South Africa's minister for communications, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, for the first time outlined plans for the phasing out of the country's second and third-gen internet connectivity services.
In the spirit of keeping pace with the expansion of its digital economy, the cessation of these networks and the prohibition of licensing supported devices, as then contained in the ministry's next-gen radio frequency spectrum draft policy, would be concluded by 2025.
2G's kill switch was to be hit by June 2024, ahead of 3G's by March 2025. Those dates have however changed, as South African authorities look to give mobile network operators and subscribers more time to move on from their legacy networks.
The Federal Department of Communications and Digital Transformation (DCDT) has pushed the deadline by 2 years. Now, the deactivation of both network generations has the same due date: 31st December 2027. Per the government's plans, the process will start on June 1, 2025.
"This deadline is meant to allow mobile network operators some level of discretion and for them to decide which network to switch off first,” the DCDT told local media.
The biggest telcos on turf called for more (industry-wide) consultations over the 2025 termination plans, insisting further talks are needed to ensure end users are unaffected and first successfully moved to 4G/LTE and 5G.
“MTN agrees that the legacy technology switch off of mobile technologies is required so that spectrum is used for spectrum-efficient mobile technologies. However, this needs to be managed in a phased approach to migrate users to newer technologies,” said MTN South Africa corporate affairs executive Jacqui O’Sullivan.
On its part, Telkom said it “carries less than 1% data traffic on its 2G network with no further investment into the technology. While 35% of our voice has been migrated to voice-over-LTE, we still carry a significant amount of voice on the 3G network, and don’t believe the 2025 deadline is realistic.”
Meanwhile, Vodacom said it was analyzing the feasibility of the timelines proposed and engaging further with the minister in this regard. Regarding the switching off of 2G and 3G networks, its "considered view is that the decision will require a multi-stakeholder approach".
According to data from Omdia, at the end of 2021, only 4% of mobile internet subscriptions in the country were second-gen. 60% are still connected to the third generation, but is predicted to drop to 22% by 2025.