2G may not be switched off in the UK for another decade

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The UK Spectrum Policy Forum says any switch off of 2G networks should be carefully planned and might not take place until the 2030s.

Mobile operators hope that a ‘sunset’ of 2G will reduce operational costs and free up spectrum for 5G services, however some users and applications are dependent on the gaining infrastructure.

Some elderly and rural users require 2G, as do the government’s smart meter project and the EU’s eCall system that connects vehicles to emergency services in the event of an airbag deployment.

UK 2G switch off

A report commissioned by the Forum said the expansion of 4G and 5G coverage, coupled with a marketing an awareness campaign, means it should be easy to migrate elderly mobile phone users. However the other applications identified would be harder to transition.

The smart meter programme is due to be completed in 2024 and devices are expected to have a 15 year lifespan. Unless technological changes are made, this means the meters will be dependent on 2G until 2039. The same timespan can be applied to eCall-compatible vehicles, which can also use 3G networks.

The report also accepted the general industry view that 2G will be shut down before 3G. Although 3G has greater capacity than 2G, it lacks the coverage and power efficiency and has been superseded by 4G and 5G.

It is likely that other European nations will shut down their 2G infrastructure before the UK, meaning there will be some lessons to learn and best practices to adopt. The Forum is urging operators and regulators to work together to minimise the potential impact.

Potential solutions include the establishment of a single shared 2G network, clear switch off dates for the country’s three 2G services, and a cut off point for the sale and deployment of dependent devices and applications.

“We sometimes focus on technology without fully understanding the impact on services people rely on,” said Tony Lavender, chair of the Spectrum Policy Forum Steering Board. “We need to think through the alternatives for these services before switching them off. This report was commissioned by the SPF to highlight to Government, Ofcom and operators just what services will be affected, and the potential implications of a premature switch-off.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.