Gabriele Lieser

CUSTOMER SUCCESS MANAGER

Summary

While the era of 5G is about to take off and LTE/4G has become a standard, legacy technologies are still needed. There are many end-users who cling to their old devices, but these will never be able to support the new technologies. The same is true for M2M environments which are also based on these traditional, simple and uncomplicated technologies.
However, frequencies are scarce, and the parallel maintenance of different technologies is expensive and erroneous. Many operators have already started to unplug their 2G and 3G networks, with many implications for MNOs, their roaming partners and their subscribers. Unfortunately, there is no coherent global strategy, so everyone has to keep up with the latest technology sunsets by themselves. Fortunately, there are already sound solutions in place to avoid time-consuming research across various sources.

For decades, mobile technologies have grown so close to our lives that sometimes the old clothes need to be taken off to scale-up and introduce new, more powerful technologies. What happens to the outdated ones and to the users that are accustomed to their old-school terminals but won’t support the new systems? How do operators deal with this tricky situation? As we are entering the era of 5G, opportunities have multiplied: ultrafast speeds, lower latency, higher connection density, increased bandwidth. For the first time, wireless is so good that it can support many processes in a fast and reliable way. Does this mean that legacy technologies are already obsolete and can be switched off for good? Or is there life in the old dog yet?

RoamsysNext Insights

In RoamsysNext Insights our experts share their views on extensive industry topics and possible solutions we can offer.

2G was developed in the early 1990s, and gradually scaled up to 3G in the 2000s and then to 4G. 2G is the longest-serving mobile technology, and the vast majority of operators worldwide still operate 2G networks. Although app-based voice and video calls have become popular, 2G-based voice services are still valuable because of their unique number identification. Furthermore, SMS is widely used in registration processes. In addition to voice, 2G technology had been a starting point for M2M communication in high-revenue applications such as POS (credit and debit card payment machines) and fleet management (tracking/temperatures). So, operators will keep 2G networks in operation until Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is generally in use.

Phasing out 2G

With new applications and an increasing demand by data-hungry subscribers, the upgrade cycles of the networks have become shorter and shorter over the years. As new network technologies are introduced in phases, providers first equip densely populated areas and then roll out to all regions with the goal of reaching at least 90% of the population. With the introduction of 4G technology, all new non-budget smartphones are VoLTE-enabled, so operators are ready to invest in fully digital, high-definition voice and video calls with unique identification numbers. Some network operators have already introduced VoLTE-enabled call services, so they will gradually phase out 2G networks over the next few years.

Paving the Way for Customers

The decision when to switch off a legacy network depends on the development of demand in the respective market. As a result, 3G networks are likely to remain in operation for at least five years. The main drivers for phasing out 3G networks are the same as for 2G networks – in particular reducing operational expenditure and reallocating precious frequencies. There are some additional key factors that will determine the timing of the switch-off, starting with the subscribers’ acceptance of VoLTE-enabled equipment, and ensuring wide-spread and high-quality 4G coverage to make sure that VoLTE services are supported after 3G is gone.

As a matter of principle, delays in the planning of projects to rationalize 3G networks can be caused by the size of the 2G customer base for M2M and IoT applications, especially where long-term support agreements are in place. After the so-called sunset dates, 2G and 3G devices are then no longer allowed to connect to the network and must cease communication within the organization. To help subscribers migrate from 3G to 4G, providers are already coming up with attractive 4G device bundles in combination with data and content bundles.

Risk of Churn

But, how about the main risks of switching off legacy networks? There will be subscriber churn, especially if operators do not shut down at the same time (as AT&T and T-Mobile demonstrated in the US). New technologies will always expose an uncertain demand for new services and capacities. Some customers will eventually be left without network coverage, are forced to upgrade cell phones, or a large number of M2M connections are disconnected for business customers. The costs of migrating M2M connections and the indignation of subscribers can lead to brand damage.

Where are the sunset dates?

MNOs face many challenges when it comes to 2G and 3G-closures. The management of the own network is one side of the medal, but how to deal with roaming partners that are closing their old technologies? Even for experienced roaming managers it is hard to keep track of the current status, as Florian Mayer, part of the RoamsysNext Client Services team and our “swiss-army-knife” when it comes to metadata, explains: “As there is no global roadmap for 2G and 3G sunsets, there are many sources that need to be consulted to get an overview. There is the news, websites like wikipedia or the operators themselves who share relevant information. Also, the GSMA provides an Excel-based workflow that keeps their members informed. But after all, in order to get the full picture, you need to accumulate data from many sources. We relieve our customers of this tedious work and provide them with current data promptly and regularly in our Wholesale Roaming Manager toolkit. It is investigated weekly, regularly updated and maintained by our experts.”

But isn’t there an easier way? The RAEX standard has been established well, and within the “Networks” section of the RAEX IR.21 there already is a dedicated field to announce the dates for the planned closure of 2G and 3G networks. “This actually is the perfect place to inform partners about the planned sunset dates”, explains Florian Mayer, a well-known industry authority with a background of operators, clearing houses and suppliers since the times when 2G appeared on the horizon. “Unfortunately, this section leads something of a wallflower existence. According to our research, only a handful of MNOs enter their sunset dates there, which is a real pity. We will soon launch a campaign to bring this more to the fore, as the sunsets are a serious problem for all operators, and this would be of great help”.

Making Customers Future-proof

We at RoamsysNext are doing our best to make our current and future customers future-proof. In order to converge roaming partner information and relationships in a precise and secure way, the RoamsysNext’s Wholesale Roaming Manager offers an all-in-one solution from test SIM cards-, over tariff-, document- and contact management. Of course, 5G is already implemented in our tools. Additionally, we help to strengthen the core network by spotting missing and incorrect configurations and vulnerabilities with the RoamsysNext Network Configuration Optimizer. Further audits are essential to make sure that the correct configurations are implemented in every network node. More than 700 MNOs across the globe already trust in our tools and services. With the help of the latest technologies and together with the GSMA, we constantly strive for more efficient solutions. Stay tuned for new advanced developments from the house of RoamsysNext.

Gabriele Lieser joined RoamsysNext in 2020 as Customer Success Manager to strengthen the bonds with our increasing number of customers and to support the marketing team. Gabriele has a strong background in corporate sales. She studied at the Universities of Trier (Germany) and Manitoba (Canada) and is incorporated in the RoamsysNext Client Service team.

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