• Several mobile operators around the world plan to shut down their 3G networks this year.

  • 3G could disappear before 2G, which remains necessary in certain areas as well as for the operation of connected objects.

  • Several vehicle models marketed between 2010 and 2021 could be affected by the shutdown of 3G.

While fifth-generation (5G) networks will soon dominate the tech world, 3G and 2G networks seem outdated.

The biggest mobile operators plan to shut down their 3G networks this year.

The goal is to free up a large portion of mobile bandwidth for future deployments of 5G and even 6G networks.

In this context, in 2021, Google added a new feature to its Android 12 operating system, which offers an option to deactivate 2G on a smartphone's modem.

Towards a “gradual” disappearance

The “third generation” (3G) telecommunications network was born almost twenty years ago. Today, it is therefore in danger of disappearing, just like its second generation elder (2G). Worldwide, 2G and 3G withdrawal plans have been in motion since 2016. For example, the three US carriers AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have announced 3G withdrawal dates for this year . AT&T also began tearing down its 2G network in 2017, with the operator claiming that 99% of its customers were now covered by 3G and 4G. For its part, T-Mobile plans to shut down its 3G networks by July 1. Finally, Verizon plans to dismantle its 3G network before December 31.

For its part, in 2019, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology declared that the withdrawal operations from the 2G and 3G networks were being finalized.

Finally, in December 2021, the UK government unveiled a new agreement with the four main local mobile network operators.

Namely Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three UK.

The agreement provides for the "phasing out" of existing 2G and 3G signals by 2033 in favor of 4G, 5G and mobile broadband services.

In Belgium, 2G at least until 2025

In Europe, 2G could last longer. For example, Vodafone intends to maintain 2G service until at least 2025. However, carriers may reconsider this timeline by then. For the record, in the 1990s, the Belgian government awarded three 2G authorizations to Proximus, Orange Belgium and Telenet Group. The initial period of validity of these authorizations was fifteen years. As for 3G, in 2001, the government granted three 3G authorizations to the same three operators for a period of validity of twenty years. They therefore came to an end on March 15, 2021.

Finally, on February 23, 2021, the authorizations were extended for periods of up to six months, until the auction of the 5G bands was finalized.

According to an interactive map from nperf.com, Belgium is largely covered by 4G and 4G+ networks.

On the map, the 2G and 3G networks are almost invisible.

2G, sometimes vital

According to the US Federal Communications Commission, all devices affected by the disappearance of second and third generation networks will no longer be able to make or receive telephone calls.

Likewise, they will no longer be able to send text messages.

But smartphones aren't the only ones affected.

In reality, most mobile operators expect 3G to be phased out before 2G is phased out altogether, as the second-generation network is a low-power fallback.

2G remains necessary in certain rural areas, as well as for certain connected objects, such as medical devices, tablets, car assistance services or alarms.

Similarly, some devices use cellular connectivity as a fallback when a wired internet connection fails, such as some warning devices for boat equipment.

In the automotive industry, many services depend on 3G

The shutdown of 3G could affect several vehicle models marketed between 2010 and 2021. Some cars will lose the ability to update location and traffic data during navigation.

Indeed, a large number of new cars marketed in recent years operate through connected services operating through 3G.

With the network gone, drivers might be unable to connect to their smartphone, voice assistant or emergency call services or take advantage of remote lock/unlock features.

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  • high tech

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  • 5G

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  • Telecom operators

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