Almost seven years after 4G mobile telephony was first launched in the country, telecom operators have begun phasing out older generation 2G and 3G technologies as the newer versions take precedence in terms of expansion plans as well as subscriber base. This has prompted the government to introduce amendments to the licensing norms asking the operators to give a 60-day notice to the telecom department and the sectoral regulator, and a 30-day notice to its subscribers before discontinuing service on a particular technology.
In the ‘operating conditions’ chapter of the Unified Licence agreement, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has added to the existing conditions: “The discontinuation of service may be due to change of technology. In that case the above condition shall apply”. Under the licence pact, operators can cease their services “by giving a notice to licensor (DoT) and TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) of at least 60 calendar days in advance with reasons”. Similarly, the operator must also notify all its subscribers by sending a 30-day notice, “clearly stating the options available to subscribers including that of MNP (mobile number portability)”.
According to data published by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the country’s 4G subscriber-base has grown more than four-fold to 388 million as of end-September 2018, compared with 86.77 million as of end-December 2015. In the same time, number of 3G and 2G users have almost halved to 149.92 million against 279.98 million.
“Most operators are switching out from 2G and 3G to 4G. Everyone now realises that 4G is what the customers are demanding. The only thing that was stopping them (customers) earlier was the availability of affordable smartphones and high-end feature phones and now those are available in market,” Rajan Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India told The Indian Express. “When 2G services are ceased, operators will have to tell customers that their phones will not work anymore,” Mathews said, explaining the DoT order. He added that the phasing out of older technologies was happening differently based on different regions in the country. “Today, a Category-B circle may be switching over to 4G, tomorrow a rural area will be switching over,” he said. In October, Bharti Airtel’s CEO Gopal Vittal, during a post-earnings analyst call, signalled the company’s intent of phasing out 2G and 3G.
“…the best spectrum which is the 900 band spectrum, we believe will go to serve 4G customers rather than 2G and by and large we will operate with 1800 grade networks as far as GSM is concerned. Like I said there will be a transition plan for this and it would vary depending on the circle and that is a function of the extent of 2G revenues that we derive from the circle,” Vittal had said.
Currently, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and state-owned BSNL and MTNL offer 2G and 3G mobile internet services. Reliance Jio launched in September 2016 with a pure 4G network.