Why is 3G turned off?

Who is to blame?

If you look at the features of modern smartphones, we see a large set of supported standards – GSM / CDMA / HSPA / EVDO / LTE / 5G.

See a smartphone from Samsung. This hot piece of glass and aluminum supports all known communication standards. You could take it to 1995 and the smartphone would work great there. But in a few years, smartphones that were not designed to travel in the past will hit the market. And that means that in the city of Yalok, in the Central African Republic, you will be left without communication. However, do not worry, because your phone would have been removed in two seconds anyway. By the way, African countries should have separate smartphones, as there is still only 2G, 3G and only in some places 4G at points.

There is no problem for the manufacturer to make a universal smartphone that works on all networks. Modern modems are compatible with any standards. Similarly, if all goes well from the manufacturer, then perhaps consumers are asking to abandon the standard?

Again, no. In all (even very developed) countries of the world there is a fairly significant percentage of people (it is funny, but in both Russia and the USA this percentage is about 17%) who use mobile phones exclusively for calls and SMS. They have no desire to turn to smartphones and enjoy the full benefits of 4G and 5G networks.

Another category of subscribers who love 2G and 3G is all kinds of smart technology. In the United States, for example, the strongest reaction to the announcement that local operators were going to shut down networks was the reaction of car companies that opted to install 3G equipment (as it is cheaper than 4G). Well, 2G networks love all kinds of alarms, smart sensors and gateways. 2G modems cost a penny and a conventional smart socket does not need more: the amount of data transmitted is meager.

So maybe he’s in the state? The state, in principle, would be happy to sell all frequencies. Only the army muddy the waters here. If they wanted to, they would generally shut down all networks (including radio and television) and do it only all day on the free frequencies playing naval battle and stealth.

And so it is all over the world. Everywhere the army removed the frequencies and they do not want to share. Imagine how instantly mobile communications would flourish in the world if it were not for the military. A funny thing is that it is not entirely clear exactly why the army needs frequencies. The same articles are published in both Vedomosti and Politico. Only in one case the Ministry of Defense, and in the other the Pentagon. But both sections respond almost identically that they need frequencies for “defense integrity”. And Ash Carter (Obama’s Secretary of Defense) said even more: “If we give the frequencies, we will never take them back.” That is, we can conclude that the military has a lot of frequencies that they do not use, but just store in reserve (suddenly one day they will find it useful!).

With the elimination method, we came to the conclusion that the operators support the abolition of 2G and 3G networks, as they are in eternal shortage.

By the way, US providers are already shutting down 3G networks, for example, AT&T switched off 3G in late February. In Russia, a few years ago, operators said they would turn off 3G networks by about 2025. But 2G networks will work for a long time. Maybe by 2030. The fact is that a lot of M2M equipment operates on 2G in Russia. Although in reality, most likely, 3G networks will be supported for a longer period of time, since, for example, ERA-GLONASS in cars still uses 3G modems. Although it would be necessary to switch to 4G a long time ago, they save money!

Why is 3G turned off?

In short, the limited frequency range is to blame. There are few frequencies, the army sits on a pile of frequencies and the pilots are forced, like Cinderella, to change the old frequencies to a new dress. And for 4G, and even more so for 5G, operators need more and more frequencies.

Let’s start with a basic idea: radio systems have two main resources around which everything revolves – this is frequency and time. Respectively, at its core, all communication standards are attempts at a new way of separating frequencies and allocating their usage time.

The first generation of communication used the FDMA standard, Frequency Division Multiple Access, ie multiple access with frequency division. Below is an image from Mobile and Wireless Communications magazine 2016. Pictured as a frequency block. Consequently, there was only one subscriber in a frequency range. FDMA is an analog standard. One of its disadvantages is the lack of frequency aggregation. Even if the frequency is free, another user can not use it to get extra power.

The second generation networks used the TDMA or Time Division Multiple Access standard. There may already be several subscribers in the same frequency range, separated by slots. Already better and bigger capacity, but still many disadvantages. For example, since a specific time slot is assigned to the subscriber, when moving between cells, the connection could be lost if the assigned time slot was already occupied in the new cell. In urban areas, where there are many users, this was a problem.

TDMA has been replaced by CDMA or Code Division Multiple Access technology. The idea is the same as in TDMA, but now subscribers are separated not by slots, but by issuing a single code for each.

CDMA and its various variants (UMTS / WCDMA, CDMA2000 / IMT-MC, TD-CDMA / TD-SCDMA, DECT and UWC-136) are the main 3G communication standard.

CDMA is about flexible resource allocation, but as you can imagine, the more subscribers, the more decoding errors. Respectively, the main disadvantages of CDMA and 3G are the degradation of the networks with the increase of the number of users.

4G networks use the OFDMA standard, Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access. In fact, it is a combination of FDMA and TDMA. OFDMA is a digital configuration plan that achieves multiple accesses by assigning subcontractor subsets to different users, allowing data to be transmitted by multiple users simultaneously. Well, take a closer look at the image below, where all 4 templates are located.

In the image above, pay close attention to the differences between the 3rd and 4th image. In fact, this is the reason why 3G networks are turned off. These are completely different data transfer algorithms. 3G phones and base stations operate on a broadband system, ie they use the full range of cellular communications. 4G / LTE and 5G operate on narrowband or multi-carrier systems that use parts of the spectrum.

Why did it take so long to switch to 4G, especially in the US? The fact is that since 3G and 4G are completely different technologies, the operator simply had to create a new network while maintaining the 3G network. That is, typically, the provider has 2 independent networks, because the 3G network can not be shared with other networks.

At the same time, the 3G network not only requires support costs, but also occupies vital frequencies, which are always in short supply anyway. Thus, all operators perform the so-called refarming of frequencies, when they slightly bite the previous communication standards. For example, the first thing they did was subtract the 1800 MHz frequency from the GSM standard, giving it 4G. Also, in some places the frequency of 900 MHz was chosen, but at the same time there may still be 2G in this frequency. Sharing different standards is one of the reasons why they try to shut down 3G as soon as possible while 2G is being ignored.

However, as 5G networks are built, all other communication standards will be phased out, as the fifth generation of communication needs all frequencies to operate fully. Respectively, with the development of 5G networks, there will be a gradual compression of all other standards.

In the case of 3G, operators will literally have to walk from one station to another to turn off the equipment. In the case of the transition from 4G to 5G, the situation may be a little easier. For example, Nokia announced in 2020 that it could upgrade its 4G hardware to 5G via a software update. But here you have to understand that this update is within the current capabilities, that is, after the update, the towers will not start supporting new frequencies, but will only be able to use those 5G frequencies with which they knew how to work.


I wonder what the transition to 6G networks will be like, as they plan to use frequencies in the range from 90 GHz to 3 THz. In the past, these frequencies were considered useless and unused. And now analysts believe that 6G will become a “connected intelligence” network when artificial intelligence begins to regulate all aspects of life in the smart city.

Well, 3G should say goodbye soon, and the sooner the better. Turning off 3G promises a 5G network, but the main thing is that until then we have a 5G smartphone to enjoy all the benefits.

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