In telecom circles, the talk has for long been 3G and now 4G is gaining significant coverage. Less is talked about 2G networks which are still serving the people of Africa diligently. Even as we want to advance to the next generation of networks, reality is that many Africans do not have 3G or 4G capable phones and it may take several years for the majority to acquire these phones. From Africacom Awards being held in South Africa it has been shared that 4% of connections in Africa are Smartphone connections, but growing numbers of people are accessing new services and apps with feature phones. MTN says “You can’t switch off 2G as long as most people can’t afford high end devices” and Google says that “cost and knowledge are the biggest obstacles to African app development”. Applications that can use 3G data will take longer to penetrate the bottom of the pyramid population which cannot afford current generation of smartphones and data packages for content rich applications.
In the US National wireless carrier AT&T plans to move completely past 2G wireless connectivity by 2017, a recent 10-Q filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission revealed. UK based networks are also working on a timeline to switch off 2G though this may not be as fast as the US.
Given the economic status of Africa, it may take several years for real 3G capable phones to sink and hence it may take longer for networks still running 2G technologies together with 3G or 4G to switch off 2G. May be this could be a decade ahead, let’s say 2022! We shall love to hear what the plans and projections of operators in Africa are. Uganda operators such Airtel Uganda and MTN Uganda with large country network coverage should be still largely depending on 2G for voice and some data services whereas the 3G network is deployed for fast data services. Do they have a plan/projection yet to switch off 2G?