Over the weekend, Taiwan joined a growing list of developed markets where mobile operators are discontinuing their 2G services.

Despite nearly 90,000 holdouts (0.3 per cent of the country’s 31 million mobile connections), Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan Mobile and Far EasTone stopped service on their 2G networks, except for emergency calls, The China Post reported.

Over the past six months, with 2G subscribers accounting for an ever shrinking percentage of customers and operators’ focus turning to 5G, more are looking to decommission their ageing 2G assets to streamline operations.

The first 2G network was commercially launched on the GSM standard in Finland by Radiolinja (now part of Elisa) in 1991.

In December 2016, Australia’s largest mobile operator Telstra closed its 2G network, which was in operation for more than 23 years. Rivals Optus (owned by Singtel) stopped offering 2G service in early April, while Vodafone Australia plans to decommission its legacy GSM network by end-September.

Singapore’s three mobile operators shut down their 2G networks in mid-April, after a three-week switch-off process.

Japan’s NTT Docomo was the first to turn off 2G in 2011. The other Japanese players quickly followed the market leader, but SoftBank still retains 3 million personal handy-phone system or PHS (2G) customers since acquiring Willcom in 2010.

Operators in South Korea followed soon after rolling out LTE. KT, the second largest operator, led the way in early 2012.

Who’s next?
A close look at subscriber numbers across Asia Pacific shows few likely candidates to follow the LTE leaders, but Thailand certainly tops the list, with just 1.3 million 2G subs or 1.4 per cent of the country’s 95 million mobile connections.

Market leader AIS migrated the last of its 2G users to other networks (including rival dtac’s) last year after its 900MHz spectrum was refarmed for 4G. Dtac has about 800,000 2G subs and state-owned TOT nearly 500,000, according to GSMA Intelligence.

New Zealand still has 900,000 2G subs, 17 per cent of total connections. While number two Spark (previously Telecom New Zealand) stopped offering 2G service in late 2012, Vodafone and 2degrees each has nearly half a million 2G users.

Surprisingly, Hong Kong counts about 3 million 2G subs (23 per cent of total connections), half of which are with China Mobile Hong Kong, which doesn’t have a 3G network. Nearly one in six of market leader CSL’s customers is on 2G.

Still going
As more 2G networks face closure around the world, in Q1 2017 LG Uplus, South Korea’s third ranked player, quietly migrated the last of its 3G users to 4G, according to the latest data from GSMA Intelligence. It is one of the few operators in the world to have 100 per cent of its customers on an LTE network.

3G users represent 17 per cent of total mobile subs in South Korea, where 4G accounts for 82 per cent of connections.

In China, the largest mobile market in the world, 2G still has a long life despite rapid uptake of 4G. 2G users account for 20 per cent of the country’s mobile connections compared with less than 15 per cent for 3G.

The gap is even wider at China Mobile, which has nearly four times as many 2G as 3G subs (289 million and 74 million respectively). GSMA Intelligence predicts its 2G customers will still account for 15 per cent of total connections by end-2019.

But at that time, the operator’s 3G user base is projected to drop to just 2.5 per cent of its total, so there is little doubt its 2G network will be running long after its 3G network is turned off.

While India counts 844 million 2G users (72 per cent of total), it shed 31 million in Q1 alone. The country has 195 million 3G subs (17 per cent of total) and 130 million 4G subs (11 per cent).

The question is how many 2G systems will be running after the last 3G network is closed?

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.