Sun sets on VodafoneZiggo 3G network

Nick Wood
By Nick Wood

Feb 5, 2020

via Flickr © Marcin Wichary (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Marcin Wichary (CC BY 2.0)

  • But Dutch operator's 2G network isn't going anywhere for now
  • 900-MHz 3G spectrum to be re-farmed for 4G; lends itself well to IoT
  • Europe's 'loyalty' to 2G means some valuable spectrum is being held back

Dutch player VodafoneZiggo has become the latest telco to ring the curtain down on its 3G network, but for now its 2G network will live on.

The original plan was for 3G to be turned off on 1 January, but it didn't actually go dark until this week. Any legacy customers that still haven't upgraded to 4G now get to experience just how slow the Internet can be when accessed via 2G.

Like any good network sunset programme though, VodafoneZiggo customers have had plenty of time to prepare for it. The operator stopped selling 3G-only subscriptions and devices in autumn 2017. Since then, it has reached out to enterprise and consumer customers over various channels to inform them of the switch-off.

VodafoneZiggo's 3G network used 900-MHz and 2100-MHz spectrum. Its licence in the latter band expires this year; the government plans to re-auction it for 5G – along with a load of other frequencies – sometime in 2020. VodafoneZiggo's 900-MHz licence doesn't expire until 2030, and so it will be re-farmed for 4G.

"The frequency space becoming available can be used far more efficiently for 4G. And that is necessary, because more capacity is needed on the 4G network since data usage of customers is rising sharply," VodafoneZiggo said late last year.

That, and running 4G at 900 MHz has potential for certain IoT services, given its propagation characteristics. Similarly, it is why VodafoneZiggo's 2G network is still alive and kicking: it still has its uses for low-power, low-bandwidth services, as well as legacy voice services.

Two's company

Europe's fondness for 2G is well documented.

  • VodafoneZiggo rival KPN intends to turn off 3G in 2022, but will retain its 2G network for now.
  • Telenor Norway's 3G network will go dark this year, but 2G will stick around until 2025
  • The sun will set on Vodafone UK's 3G network in the next couple of years, but like Telenor, it will continue to operate 2G until at least 2025.
  • UK incumbent BT has said previously that it sees 2G operating alongside 4G, and is keen on retiring its 3G network by 2022.
  • Three Denmark has experimented with switching off its 3G network, refarming the spectrum for 4G during last year's Roskilde festival.

Elsewhere, Telia has been busy switching off its 2G and 3G networks in some markets. Meanwhile, Swiss incumbent Swisscom plans to retire its 2G network by the end of this year.

The ongoing reliance on 2G in some markets for legacy voice services and certain M2M applications means a lot of very useful spectrum, spectrum that would be handy for 5G, will continue to be 'locked' out of reach.

That's either a testament to GSM's staying power, or an indictment of how long it has taken to migrate to next-gen services.

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