More efficient spectrum usage with network rationalisation – Lessons from the Asia-Pacific region

With the rapid growth in wireless data services, operators worldwide are exploring opportunities to deploy 4G and 5G technologies by re-using spectrum currently supporting 2G and 3G services. In the process, they are laying the groundwork for enhanced capacity based on a more efficient spectrum use.

During the last three decades, mobile networks have evolved from carrying our calls and messaging, to, with the mobile data revolution, unleashing unlimited connectivity. Consequent data growth can be managed not only via additional spectrum, but also by refarming existing resources. In fact, the peak efficiency of mobile technologies, namely the amount of traffic carried in a cell site, has increased more than 200 times since the introduction of GSM in 1991.

The pioneers in legacy network rationalisation are found in the Asia-Pacific region. Drawing on experiences from mobile operators in six countries we explores the most suitable regulatory and market conditions for achieving a smooth and successful process.

For mobile operators, this evolution represents an opportunity to reduce the extra cost of running multiple networks. Savings can be realised by:
• Simplifying network management operations and RF planning;
• Avoiding costly maintenance of ageing network equipment, including equipment spares;
• Eliminating ongoing costs of software licences;
• Reducing lease cost of tower space for multiple antennas; and
• Reducing energy consumption of the network.

However, this is by no means an effort that only benefits mobile operators. Thanks to the potential for improved capacity, data speeds and broadband coverage, consumers, businesses, and society as a whole stand to gain from innovative services based on 4G and, when the time is right, 5G.

Each of the countries in the report have something to offer. For example, the Australian case study illustrates how important the timing of the 2G switch-off is. In New Zealand, the process was completely market driven, with no regulator involvement. Also, a voluntary handset recycling programme helped minimise the environmental impact. Japan’s mobile operators have already announced switch-off schedules for their 3G networks, starting in 2022 with KDDI.

Based on the experience in the Asia-Pacific region, lessons learned include:
• Operators typically initiate legacy shutdown plans and usually switch off at different times depending on their user base;
• Which technology to retire depends on specific market circumstances and potential obligations;
• The full process generally carries a transitional period of around three years, with preparations commencing earlier than formal public announcements;
• A reasonable formal notice period commonly comes along with a well-designed campaign targeting affected customers, possibly assisted by the regulator;
• Switch-off may include upgrade incentives for long tail customers, with comparably priced plans, and handset recycling initiatives.

To learn more about this important topic, download the “Legacy mobile network rationalisation” report here.