Swisscom became the latest operator to announce the forthcoming closure of its 3G network, although the Swiss group is retaining its aging network for a little longer than some, with plans to keep it up and running until the end of 2025.
In neighboring Germany, for example, all three mobile network operators have already shut down their 3G networks, with Telefonica Deutschland the last to do so in the final hours of 2021.
In the UK, Vodafone has confirmed plans to start shutting down its legacy 3G network from 2023. BT's mobile operator EE has said it will phase out its 3G services by 2023, while CK Hutchison-owned Three UK ended the sale of 3G devices in 2018.
In the US, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are all expected to shutter their 3G networks this year. Orange Group, meanwhile, aims to close its 2G and 3G networks across the whole of Europe by 2030.
Some operators, like Swisscom rival Salt, have no plans to close their 3G networks for the next few years.
A Salt spokesperson said: "Today, over 95% of our sites are equipped with 3G technology. We are also partly deploying the 3G technology on new sites."
4G and 5G boost
Like its peers that are shuttering older networks, Swisscom intends to use spectrum frequencies released from the 3G closure to improve its 4G and 5G networks.
Christoph Aeschlimann, Swisscom CTIO, noted that only 1.1% of mobile data traffic still runs on the 3G network but said the technology "occupies around 10% of the antenna capacity (ONIR). Due to the legal conditions in place, the ONIR capacity is limited so Swisscom must use it as efficiently as possible."
Indeed, Swiss operators have long complained that under Switzerland's Ordinance on Non-Ionizing Radiation, ONIR limits are ten times stricter than European Union regulations and have hampered 5G network rollouts.
As at the end of 2021, Swisscom's 4G/LTE network covered 99% of the Swiss population. Swisscom currently covers 99% of the Swiss population with a basic version of 5G and said it operated 1,975 antennas in 888 locations with full "5G+" at the end of 2021. The operator has said that the "creation of urgently needed capacity for both 4G and 5G is being delayed."
Aeschlimann is set to take over as CEO when Urs Schaeppi leaves on June 1, 2022. As well as presiding over the 3G closure, the new CEO will inherit a dispute with the government over its fiber network deployment. In June last year, Schaeppi warned that government objections could delay fiber rollout for years, because the Swiss Competition Commission (ComCo) and the Federal Administrative Court (FAC) took issue with Swisscom's planned range of wholesale offers.
The matter remains very much in the air. In February, Schaeppi indicated that Swisscom was still "in dialogue" with ComCo over the issue, noting that the situation regarding the expansion of the fiber-optic network "remains difficult."