A new report from the GSMA Legacy mobile network rationalisation  highlights the well understood benefits of retiring older 2G and 3G networks across APAC but makes it clear that there is a significant regional adoption rate variance for 4G and 5G. It also cautions that transformation doesn’t come without risk, balancing growth opportunity against customer experience.

The report states that in Asia-Pacific, operators started rationalizing 2G services as early as 2008 when it was foreseen that more spectrally efficient technologies were on the horizon, and that consumer demand was set to evolve.

Traditionally, legacy rationalisation is usually driven by the perpetual need to reduce operational costs, partially through the deployment of more cost-efficient technology. It can also be driven by governmental pressure and an expectation that the latest technology is being employed by incumbent operators. This pressure remains a key driver for network transformations around the world today.

Carriers have spent a significant amount of time, money and resources on 4G and 3G technology which still carry a large portion of revenue-generating services.   However, the dilemma that carriers face is around legacy equipment that is end-of-life, end-of-support, capacity constrained or lacks features to bring it forward into new architectures like virtualization or cloud-native.

Matt Rosenberg, Chief Revenue Officer, NetNumber

The perceived benefits of a successful rationalization program include the ability to meet forecasted demand for data, and on the regional and global stage, be seen as an innovative first mover. But it doesn’t come without risk. If competing operators don’t switch off legacy at the same time, an imbalance is created which can lead to customer migration and churn. Also, the demand for capacity and data can be uncertain, and dependent upon innovation and continued development in the applications market. 

Anytime an industry is in the process of change, there is a transitionary period where the older needs to be carried forward into the new, until such time full transition has occurred.   In our industry, that is happening in real-time with the onset of 5G as we look forward, coupled with the practicality of carriers still running 4G and in many places 3G networks.”

Matt Rosenberg, CRO, NetNumber

Nevertheless, the gradual phasing out of 2G and 3G is happening across the world at different rates over the next five years and longer.

Image source: Legacy mobile network rationalisation – Experiences of 2G and 3G migrations in Asia-Pacific May 2020

By 2025, the report claims that around two thirds of all mobile network traffic will be on 4G and 5G networks. However, it will be a different story in emerging markets, with the majority of users continuing to have access only to older technology standards. This means that billions of mobile users in Africa, India and Latin America will remain on 2G and 3G up to 2025.

However, the importance of 3G is not limited to developing markets, with the GSMA noting that its research had found that around 20% of mobile traffic was delivered via 3G networks in the US and Europe. This underlines the importance of operators maintaining their legacy networks while investing in newer deployments.

Also highlighting the release of the new report Developing Telecoms, the leading online news portal for telecoms in emerging markets, recently quoted the GSMA.

“In the years ahead, mobile network operators will need to balance the capital expenditure demands of deploying their 5G networks and extending the reach of their 4G and LTE networks, with the operational expense of continuing to run their legacy network infrastructure. In order to do this, they will need to consolidate as many aspects of their mobile network infrastructure as possible.”

Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA

The report goes on to conclude that “Despite the differences in switch-off timing and market, the key to successful 2G switch-off processes lies in careful planning and transitional processes, seeking regulatory approval where necessary, and above all ensuring effective customer engagement…The transitional period is essential to facilitate customer migration to new technologies.”

As carriers think about reducing operating costs, they’re looking to gain efficiencies through consolidation, such as with an intergenerational platform that can handle 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G core network signaling and routing functions.  By moving towards a software-based platform that is designed for centralized provisioning of all data and multi-generational protocols, carriers are able to capitalize on investing into the new-world architectures for future 5G services, while at the same time carrying forward their legacy functions and applications without disruption to existing revenue streams or services.

Matt Rosenberg, CRO, NetNumber

While discussing the Future of 3G, the new report states that “3G networks are likely to be operational for at least five more years in most of the case study markets. Based on discussions with MNOs, equipment vendors and regulators, many MNOs in APAC which are yet to switch-off any legacy network are actively considering whether it is possible to concurrently profitably deploy, operate and maintain 2G, 3G, and 4G networks in addition to 5G networks which are being planned and/or deployed.”

In NetNumber terms this is an important observation.

The harmonisation of these multiple domains onto a centralized platform provides a step-up function in terms of efficiency, reducing internal signaling surge and allowing carriers to evolve networks and services at the speed of their business.”

Matt Rosenberg, CRO, NetNumber

NetNumber recently launched and introduced TITAN.IUM, the industry’s first cloud-native interGENerational platform to the market. It’s a cloud-native platform that addresses both the existing and next-generation requirements of telecom networks. TITAN.IUM is the next generation of the widely deployed TITAN multi-protocol centralized signaling and routing platform that aligns to CSP network and service evolution from 2G and 3G, through to 4G. It is also the home for NetNumber 5G applications and aligned to our customers’ journeys to becoming cloud-native.

The platform is designed to reach the next evolution in performance and scale, making it ideal for 5G and multi-access edge compute architectures. It provides vertical and horizontal scale-out with low latency, coupled with a suite of data replication capabilities, that provide flexible architectural options which can evolve with a changing network over time. Read more about TITAN.IUM here.


GSMA Report – Legacy mobile network rationalisation Experiences of 2G and 3G migrations in Asia-Pacific May 2020

Developing Telecoms article – Emerging markets will rely on 2G and 3G for another 5 years – GSMA


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