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20 March 2020

Danish telcos ring the starting bell for 3G shutdown

A week after Telia and Telenor announced a 5G RAN sharing deal in Denmark, the two operators have announced that they will start to shut down their shared 3G network from April 2021.

This is in line with a strong trend among European MNOs to plan to sunset 3G networks long before 2G ones, which contrasts with North America and parts of Asia, where 2G networks are well into the process of shutdown. In Europe, most operators want to keep at least some of their 2G spectrum active to support wide coverage for voice and, particularly, machine-to-machine services like asset tracking. 3G has never been as effective for such applications, and its 2.1 GHz spectrum will be more valuable to refarm for 4G or 5G than GSM’s 900 MHz (most of the GSM spectrum in 1.8 GHz, the other main European band, has already been repurposed for 4G, as in the example of the UK’s EE).

Closure of the joint Telia/Telenor 3G network (called TT Network) will start in a year’s time though they have not indicated how long it will take to complete, just saying the process would be “gradual”.

“As the 3G network gradually phases out, the gradually limited 3G traffic is channelled onto the 4G and 5G networks, delivering far faster data rates, better call quality and paving the way for brand new digital services and ways to use the Internet,” the telcos said.

Rival operator 3 Denmark also recently announced a 3G network phase-out in Denmark. It will begin sunsetting the technology in major cities this year to free up spectrum for 4G, initially refarming 10 MHz of its 15 MHz total in 2.1 GHz to boost urban capacity.

Telia and Telenor have shared passive and active infrastructure in Denmark for the past seven years. Earlier this month they announced a successful trial of 2G/3G/4G/5G RAN sharing using the Multi-Operator Core Network (MOCN) technology, working with Nokia.

MOCN allows each MNO to have its own core, and so control quality of services, user prioritization and other areas of differentiation. But the passive and active network, as well as spectrum, are shared.

The shared network will initially be used to trial 5G services, including voice calls, but could become a commercial reality in future, if regulators approve. The operators carried out successful end-to-end test calls on the network and claim it is the first to support live MOCN capabilities for 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G simultaneously.

“We hope that this trial demonstrates to operators around the world that there are multiple options open to them to get their 5G networks up and running quickly and at the lowest possible cost,” said Tommi Uitto, president of mobile networks at Nokia.

Telia Denmark’s CTO, Henrik Kofod, also highlighted the reduced carbon footprint and energy costs associated with active sharing. “I hope this will inspire other operators in the Danish market to move in the same direction. Network sharing is a great choice when it comes to building sustainable 5G networks,” he said.