The African National Congress (ANC), South Africa's ruling party, wants the country to develop an official timeline for phasing out 2G and 3G connectivity to modernise the country's mobile networks.
Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, South Africa's communications minister and ANC member, stated that the party wanted the government to consult with the industry on a timeline for retiring older network technologies.
Essentially, the party has called for an industry roadmap for the country's wider rollout of 4G and 5G to ensure rural households are not left behind.
Recall that Ntshavheni announced in June 2022 that South Africa would ban the import and distribution of 2G devices by February 2023 to enable a robust programme to modernise South Africa's networks.
This would enable South Africa's mobile network operators to fully deploy 4G and 5G networks by 2025. Since the two newer technologies are more spectrally efficient, they can support more network capacity and higher throughput while using the same bandwidth.
This move complements South Africa Connect, South Africa's broadband connectivity initiative.
Ntshavheni says that network operators can use the frequency spectrum occupied by 2G and 3G signals to provide faster and more reliable connectivity via 4G and 5G.
She also claims that shutting down 2G and 3G will improve broadband quality and make data more affordable for all South Africans.
While telecom operators worldwide have been deploying 5G networks since 2019, deployment of 5G in Africa has been prolonged.
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So far, the network has only been launched in a few African countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Botswana, South Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Zimbabwe. Nonetheless, the vast majority of these launches are not even commercial.
In 2019, Vodacom stated that its 2G services would be phased out by 2024, while MTN planned to discontinue its 3G network in 2025.
MTN also stated that it would take several years before it switches off 2G due to the extensive use of 2G, and is considering a 3G turnoff before a 2G turnoff.
This is essential because 2G is still required for smaller devices with basic connectivity, like machine-to-machine and Internet-of-Things (IoT) communication.
Safaricom CEO, Peter Ndegwa, explained why African telcos have been slow to roll out 5G networks. He stated that the high cost of 5G-compliant phones has been a significant impediment.
He also said that launching a commercial 5G network when there aren't enough mobile devices capable of receiving it makes no economic sense.