Singapore MNOs plan to retire 3G services in 2024

Goodbye 3G. Image by 89Stocker | Bigstockphoto

All three Mobile Network Operators (“MNOs”) providing 3G services in Singapore – Singtel, StarHub and M1 – plan to retire their 3G services by 31 July 2024. This is in view of advancements in the mobile communication space, where 3G has been largely replaced by 4G and 5G.

3G entered the Singapore market almost 20 years ago

3G entered the Singapore market almost 20 years ago. The next wave of 4G developments took place in the mid-2010s. Since the introduction of 5G in 2022, 5G subscriptions have gained prevalence, making up 15% of total mobile subscribers, which continues to grow. Close to 99% of Singapore’s mobile subscribers are currently on 4G/5G. As of April 2023, the 3G subscriber base makes up approximately 1% of the total mobile subscriptions and is declining.

Internationally, operators like those in Australia and the UK are similarly expected to retire 3G services by 2024, while some countries like the USA and Malaysia have retired 3G services.

When the 3G networks retire, more spectrum can be released for investment in 5G to provide a better experience for users and support enterprises undergoing digital transformation.

Successful migration of 3G subscribers by MNOs is a priority

Before retiring their 3G services, MNOs must ensure that their remaining 3G subscribers, both individual and enterprise users, transit smoothly onto the 4G/5G networks. To facilitate the transition, the MNOs will be offering the following support:

  • Individual users – options will be given to convert from 3G to 4G plans on no worse-off terms. MNOs will also provide a range of mobile phone options at different price points; and
  • Enterprise users – support will be given for enterprises to seamlessly migrate to 4G or other alternative services, minimising disruption to their existing services.

Retailers will also no longer be able to sell 3G mobile phones and/or 4G models requiring 3G for voice calls. This will take effect from 1 February 2024 (except for export purposes).

This one-year transition period is given to allow MNOs to adequately engage and migrate their remaining 3G subscribers before retiring their 3G services. 3G subscribers should reach out to their respective MNOs for more information and assistance.

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, in the November 2021 auction of 2100MHz spectrum, the IMDA extended the First Right of Refusal (FROR) spectrum – one paired lot of 2×5MHz – to each of the existing 2100MHz licence holders (i.e. the incumbent MNOs) to support 3G service continuity at a cost of SGD3 million (USD2.3 million) per paired block. Although no concrete details were published at the time, the regulator had earlier set out its stall that 3G would be discontinued by around 2025, but the three incumbents had each effectively moved past 3G services for wholesale/retail services by end-2021.

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