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  • Writer's pictureDean Anthony Gratton

Does 5G adoption mean out with the old?

With the increasing shift and rollout of 5G, the next-generation cellular technology, legacy cellular technologies are slowly being shut down, but this isn’t happening everywhere. Let me explain …

How cellular technologies will change and evolve

Ordinarily, I would assume that older technologies had served their purpose and that such technologies would become disbanded at some point and, ultimately, be discarded or recycled. Yet, 2G and 3G technologies are still needed in certain countries around the world where they continue to sustain an essential connectivity infrastructure. I’m sure, 5G at some point will naturally overtake legacy generational technology where 4G, currently, remains the most popular technology today. We’re already witnessing an increasing uptake in 5G applications and the technology is more than proving its value on a global level.

But, in the meantime, the GSMA in their 2021 report, The Mobile Economy 2021, have described how the global mobile operators expect to see the evolution of cellular technology generation use around the world. As I have already mentioned, the report acknowledges how the GSMA expect that 4G will continue to be the most popular cellular technology until 2025. What’s more, the number of 5G connections is expected to exceed the number of global 2G connections by 2023, as well as overtaking 3G connections by 2025 according to their report. The report also claims that “5G is now available in every region, making it a truly global technology” with adoption most likely to be the highest in China, as well as developed areas such as Asia Pacific and North America by 2025.

A methodology for building infrastructure to advance global connectivity

According to the GSMA report, by 2025, the global subscriber base of 2G and 3G users is predicted to remain quite high, with 5% expected to still be on 2G and 18% of subscribers on 3G. Moreover, the report predicts that by 2025 there will be 8.8 billion global mobile subscribers, which excludes licensed cellular internet of things (IoT) SIM connections. So, if we take these seemingly small percentages of users for 2G and 3G technologies, what we have is purported to be 460 million 2G GSM subscribers and around 1.6 billion 3G UMTS subscribers. As such, according to the report, this equates to just below one quarter of the world’s mobile subscriber population in use by 2025. What we can expect is that the support for 2G and 3G is likely to continue beyond 2025 for Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), whilst the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Sub-Saharan Africa will retain the highest density of 2G and 3G users.

You might recall my column last month where I discussed the differences between the O-RAN Alliance, Open RAN and OpenRAN (with no space) in What are O-RAN, Open RAN and OpenRAN. In particular, I talked about how the Alliance and its Open RAN architecture specifications encouraged openness in its approach by disaggregating both the software and hardware elements. I also touched upon the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), which is a group comprising a diverse engineering-focused global community who, together, provide a collaborative methodology for building “infrastructure solutions to advance global connectivity,” since “half of the world’s population is still not connected to the internet and, for those who are, connectivity is often insufficient,” according to TIP.

TIP was founded in 2016 and later in May 2016, ADVA joined the community.

Support for 2G and 3G is likely to continue for much of the world beyond 2025.

If it aint broke, don’t fix it!

TIP and the OpenRAN are dedicated to developing 2G, 3G and 4G radio access network (RAN) solutions using general purpose vendor-neutral software and hardware technology, along with focusing effort on developing 5G New Radio (NR) architecture. Moreover, the group has been deployed to address legacy 2G and 3G network technologies, along with 4G LTE and 5G, in turn, encompassing an “all-generation” solution.

The Telecom Infra Group and its “all-generation” approach has a clear objective to continue to support 2G and 3G, where multiple vendors are nowadays seeking alternative use cases for driving legacy cellular technologies use. Similarly, much of Africa, as I mentioned earlier, obviously needs ongoing support for 2G and 3G technologies, offering the basic connectivity premise that other parts of the world have become so accustomed to, in turn, affording the ability to voice call or text.

Until next time …

It’s surprising to think that half of our world is still not connected to the internet. And, with this in mind, whilst I ordinarily think older technologies should be disbanded or recycled, clearly there’s still a need to use them and to repurpose them elsewhere.

So, this is where your “making technology for good” Dr. G signs off.

Originally published in Technically Speaking.


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a technology influencer, analyst & futurist 

I dispel the rumours, gossip and hype surrounding new technology

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