Orange sets 2G, 3G shutdown timeline

Orange plans to phase out its 2G and 3G networks in Europe by 2030, as it looks to make room and allocate resources for newer technologies.

The sunset timeline is from 2025 to 2030 but network shutdowns won’t be uniform across the operator’s footprint as Orange is taking a regional approach that accounts for usage in each country.

In France, 2G will be decommissioned first, by the end of 2025, followed by a 3G shutdown by the end of 2028. In other markets of Belgium, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Spain, 2025 is when Orange will shutter 3G networks. A 2G sunset for those countries will happen by 2030 but vary based on each subsidiary’s specific plans.

Orange said 3G is on the docket later in France because coverage has historically been better than 2G in the country.

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By shutting down legacy network technologies the carrier can turn attention to modern, more efficient 4G and 5G networks. It plans to refarm spectrum currently used for 2G and 3G to boost overall coverage and capacity of 4G and 5G in rural and urban areas.

Shuttering legacy networks, particularly 3G, is something U.S. operators are working toward – although not without pushback from certain users, including IoT. T-Mobile’s shutdown of the legacy Sprint CDMA network, now scheduled for March 31, caused friction with Dish’s Boost Mobile, which had issues with timing it argued was sooner than expected; that also was related to its ability to transition its customers who ride on the network.

T-Mobile and Dish recently settled their dispute. After the Sprint CDMA network shutoff, T-Mobile plans to close its own legacy 3G network by July 1, while Verizon’s turning off 3G at the end of 2022.

AT&T already started its 3G network shutdown in late February. However, stakeholders such as the Alarm Industry Communications Committee wanted an extension as the group raised concerns that IoT devices including fire alarms, personal medical alert devices and home intrusion alert systems would be in jeopardy and needed more time to transition to newer technologies.

RELATED: T-Mobile roaming won’t save alarm industry from AT&T’s 3G shutdown: AICC

Still, as wireless industry analysts pointed out in recent columns for Fierce, 3G shutdowns weren’t a surprise, with carriers announcing plans in 2019.

Peter Rysavy, president of Rysavy Research, wrote that “keeping 3G operational deprives 5G users of needed spectrum, especially in the lower bands used by 3G that offer excellent propagation.” Spectrum used for 3G is also underutilized, with less than 1% of AT&T’s traffic carried on 3G, he continued.

For Orange, the operator said it “will work closely with IoT customers to identify amongst the range of future-proof technologies, the best IoT connectivity alternative according to their specific needs.”

Part of the work is to ensure the transition of shutting off older network technologies doesn’t disrupt customers. By giving notice at least three years in advance, Orange said any mobile device upgrades that need to happen can take place within a natural renewal cycle, as well as equipment which will be recycled through the company’s sustainability-focused recycling and refurbishing programs.

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“Phasing out legacy technologies such as 2G and 3G is a major part of our plan to position ourselves as a leading European network operator and to bring our customers the best connectivity possible” said Michaël Trabbia, chief technology and innovation officer for Orange group, in a statement. “By removing obsolete technological layers and pooling our resources, we can focus on building future-proof, resilient, automated, energy efficient and optimized networks. As a result, customers will benefit from more efficient and sustainable networks leading to an enhanced user experience.”

Moving away from legacy networks to focus on more energy efficient technologies and networks contributes to the company’s environmental targets to reduce carbon emissions and become Net Zero by 2040, Trabbia continued.

Orange names SA 5G suppliers

As Orange gears up to say goodbye to 2G and 3G networks, it’s preparing to shift to the next phase with standalone 5G in Europe and announced suppliers this week.

Ericsson and Nokia are suppliers for 5G SA core networks in different markets.  Orange will use Ericsson’s 5G SA core for Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg and Poland. It’s tapping Nokia’s SA 5G core for France and Slovakia, as well as the vendor’s subscriber data management for all countries. Oracle also scored another 5G core role and will be providing 5G core signaling and routing in all countries.

Existing radio equipment will get a software upgrade.

RELATED: Orange to launch cloud-native standalone 5G pilot network in France

For Orange, one benefit of SA 5G is the ability create network slices to offer enterprises private networks – either virtually on the operator’s public network or through hybrid setups with dedicated equipment on-prem – that deliver specific levels of performance or security based on use cases or needs. The operator said preparation, testing and deployment will happen in 2022 to set up for commercial launches starting in 2023.