Telkom mulling 2G network switch-off

Alphonzo Samuels

Telkom is giving serious thought to switching off its 2G network to focus on 3G and 4G/LTE — and later 5G — in the process freeing up spectrum for data-led mobile offerings.

That’s the word from CEO Sipho Maseko, who was speaking at the telecommunications group’s annual results presentation in Centurion, near Pretoria, on Monday.

“Luckily, we don’t have a big base of 2G customers,” Maseko said. “Because it’s a small base, we can switch it off and have an all-3G/4G network.”

Vodacom, MTN and Cell C are in a more difficult position in that they still have millions of devices on their networks that only support 2G. Operators are keen to move to more modern technologies as consumer demand grows for data as opposed to voice services.

Though Telkom is in a stronger position to do this than its rivals, the company is hobbled by the fact that it doesn’t have access to spectrum below 1GHz. Vodacom, MTN and Cell C, which were licensed before Telkom, all have allocations in the 900MHz band, which they’ve used for 2G and, more recently, for some 3G.

“Other than sub-1GHz, we have a decent chunk of spectrum,” Maseko said. And because the operator came to market much later than its competitors, it is fortunate in that it doesn’t have a big legacy base of clients on its 2G network. 2G was designed for voice calling, though it can carry limited data, too. However, these data carriers — GPRS and Edge — are considered narrowband technologies and are not suitable for high-bandwidth applications demanded by consumers with smart devices.

Alphonzo Samuels, CEO of Telkom’s wholesale division Openserve, said at the results presentation that the company has begun testing 5G — the next generation of mobile broadband technology — in its labs, but said it is not yet ready to roll it out commercially.

He said the company will, however, deploy 5G when the standards are ready. This is likely to take place in the dense metropolitan areas first and will take advantage of the company’s fibre infrastructure, including the fibre it has laid to connect residential homes to fixed broadband.

“We will only really exploit 5G technology to its fullest once the standards are ratified,” Samuels said. “You could spend a lot of money if you try to be on the bleeding edge.”  — (c) 2018 NewsCentral Media