What will be the real carbon impact of the shutdown of 2G and 3G networks?

Estimated read time 3 min read

What will be the real carbon impact of the shutdown of 2G and 3G networks?

The extinction of 2G and 3G networks is now clearly underway. In France, three out of four operators have announced their timetable for shutting down these old wireless telecommunications standards. Orange will close 2G in 2025 and 3G in 2030. SFR has chosen the deadlines of 2026 and 2028 respectively. Finally, Bouygues Telecom has set deadlines for 2026 and 2029.

The decommissioning of 2G and 3G networks presents several interests for telecom operators. By reallocating these frequencies in favor of 4G and 5G networks, they gain in capacity. An oxygen balloon in high density areas that have reached saturation with the increase in mobile uses.

By migrating to more efficient and resilient technologies, operators are improving the quality of service to the subscriber, with the generalization of VoLTE (Voice over LTE, voice over the 4G network), and reducing their maintenance and operating costs. Last but least, the new standards are less energy intensive. Operators are reducing their electricity bill, which has soared in recent months, while improving their carbon footprint.

A real gain from the first year

To precisely assess the carbon impact of the switch from 2G/3G networks to 4G/5G voice, SMS and M2M services, Arcep has commissioned a report from a committee of technical experts. The latter took as a working hypothesis to compare the use of an “iso-service” network in the 900 MHz band, whether it operates in one technology or another.

Balance sheet: the gain is real. Despite a continuous decline in the uses they carry, 2G / 3G networks represent a significant share of the electricity consumption of mobile networks: between 21% and 33% of all current network base stations and about 17% by 2025.

This recurring gain in electricity consumption will compensate for the anticipated renewal of obsolete equipment in the first year. The extinction of the 2G / 3G networks will, in fact, put out of service all the terminals not compatible with 4G / 5G like the old mobile phones.

A greater impact in the BtoB

If the impact in the general public will be limited, the renewal in the BtoB will take on a completely different scale. Companies still use a large number of sensors communicating via low-speed cellular networks in the fields of remote assistance, security, remote reading or agriculture. We are thinking of CCTV alarms, electric charging stations or medallion boxes for the elderly.

To reduce the carbon impact of this renewal, the study estimates that manufacturers of terminals or connected objects must anticipate the cessation of 2G / 3G by promoting the marketing of 4G / 5G compatible devices. It is also up to them to inform their customers as early as possible, the operators’ schedule being known.

Finally, with regard to automatic emergency call devices that are embedded in cars in accordance with the European “e-Call” regulations and equipped with 3G SIM cards, “ it seems desirable to ensure that the newly commissioned devices are 4G / 5G compatible”.

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