2019-10-23 11:10:52

China’s telecom providers should start shifting customers off 2G and 3G networks, an official with China’s powerful Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said Tuesday. The instructions come as the country looks to free up valuable telecom frequencies ahead of a commercial 5G rollout later this year.

Speaking at a press conference, Wen Ku, director of the MIIT’s telecom department, said that the time was ripe for China to move on from 2G and 3G technology. Pointing to similar decisions taken by other countries, he encouraged carriers to help the country’s remaining 2G and 3G users make the switch to more up-to-date plans.

In June, China issued its first batch of commercial 5G licenses to the country’s “big three” telecom providers — China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom — as well as the smaller China Broadcasting Network. Powering down 2G and 3G networks will help telecoms save money on land, power, and maintenance costs, as well as free up space for 5G networks on the country’s crowded telecom spectrum, Wen said.

Concern over the coming shutdown has been evident since at least July, when some China Unicom users complained that they couldn’t make phone calls using their 3G devices, though the company later denied the issue was related to a lack of network coverage. And in August, mobile users questioned whether carriers were throttling 4G speeds in an effort to promote 5G.

Reflecting consumer fears, Wen cautioned China’s telecoms not to be too hasty in shutting off service to users, and to make the shift as seamless as possible. 4G networks are already available in over 98% of China’s villages, he added.

While outpacing many countries when it comes to 5G deployment, China has been relatively slow to decommission its 2G networks. Major telecom providers in countries such as the U.K., Japan, and South Korea stopped offering 2G services as early as 2010.

As for 3G, China Mobile doesn’t expect to completely switch off its network until 2020, roughly in line with plans put forth by Verizon and Vodafone, and a year ahead of AT&T. China Telecom has already stopped enrolling new 2G and 3G devices in its network.

As of late August, China’s mobile carriers had 1.25 billion 4G users, 119 million 3G users, and less than 21 million 2G users, according to Xinhua.

Editor: Kilian O’Donnell.