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Singapore to shutter 2G services by April 1

2G is making way for 3G and LTE networks in the city-state, but the legacy technology will remain in other markets with significant machine-to-machine investments

Singapore will pull the plug on 2G mobile services on 1 April 2017, in a bid to free up bandwidth for 3G and 4G services that better meet the needs of consumers and businesses in the city-state.

The move was first announced in 2015 by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), which had approved the request by all three Singapore telcos – Singtel, StarHub and M1 – to switch off their 2G networks.

IMDA said it took into consideration the evolving technology landscape and migration of consumers to 3G and 4G technologies, which offer more features and higher data speeds. 2G mobile services were first introduced in Singapore in 1994.

By shutting down 2G networks, scarce radio frequency spectrum can be reallocated to meet increasing demand for higher-speed mobile services. The IMDA, which had stopped registering 2G mobile equipment since September 2015, said it has allocated this spectrum to mobile operators.

In a statement, the IMDA and telcos urged all remaining 2G mobile users to switch to 3G or 4G handsets as soon as possible to continue using their mobile plans. 2G users will also be able to retain their numbers and subscription plan on 3G and 4G networks at no additional cost and with no re-contract. 

As of December 2016, there were 132,300 users of 2G services – about 1.6% of all mobile subscribers – in Singapore. It is uncertain how many have moved over to 3G and 4G services to date, though Computer Weekly understands some businesses have not made the switch.

With elderly users likely to be most affected by the 2G shutdown, IMDA has encouraged seniors to sign up for courses on how to use smartphones at senior-friendly IT learning hubs located across Singapore. The country’s significant migrant worker population is another affected group.

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IMDA said it has partnered the local telcos to ensure a range of handset models is available to meet various customer needs, ranging from basic models costing below S$50 (US$36) to feature-rich smartphones. Handsets with simple features similar to 2G phones that current users are familiar with are also available.

Singapore is not the only country in the Asia-Pacific region to switch off its 2G networks. Technology powerhouses Japan and South Korea had retired 2G services nearly a decade ago, while Australia will shutter 2G services by 2017. Thailand is expected to follow suit by 2019.

The reliance on 2G connections in machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, however, will keep the legacy technology alive in some markets – at least until LTE connectivity becomes more widely used in the M2M space.

Pauline Trotter, practice leader at technology research firm Ovum, said: “Large carrier groups with established M2M businesses will not seek to switch off 2G until 2020 – and for some, this will not be until 2025.”

However, she noted that decision is not made for the sole purpose of providing legacy support. “2G M2M connections will continue to be added, because 2G still represents the most affordable and internationally available form of coverage.”

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