Spark to shut off 3G by 2025 to make way for rural 5G

Spark to shut off 3G by 2025 to make way for rural 5G
Image by Hvostik | Bigstockphoto

Incumbent New Zealand telco Spark announced it will close down its legacy 3G network towards the end of 2025 so that it can free up spectrum for 5G rollouts in rural Aotearoa. 

Spark’s 3G network primarily operates in the 850-MHz band. The telco wants to use it for rural 5G because it offers better range and penetration than other 5G bands at 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz.

Most customers won’t notice

Spark said that most customers won’t notice the difference, as only 4% of its total network data traffic runs over 3G, while 3G voice calls have declined by 70% since 2019.

However, the 3G shutdown does also affect Spark’s low-cost brand Skinny, as well as MVNOs Megatel, Trustpower and Digital Island, which use Spark’s network. They will also have to ensure that their 3G customers migrate to 4G before the deadline.

Spark chief operating officer Mark Beder commented that Spark’s 3G network has been running since its launch in 2009 (back when Spark was still Telecom New Zealand).

“Our 3G network enabled New Zealanders to use the internet for the first time on their mobile phones. And while it’s served us very well, 14 years on, newer mobile generations are far better suited to meet today’s needs,” he said in a statement.

Spark’s 4G network covers 98% of the New Zealand population. Beder said that the telco “will be enhancing 4G coverage in the few areas where there is currently only 3G available and we’ll continue to invest in both our 4G and 5G networks ahead of the 3G closure.”

Spark will help with devices

Beder added that Spark will reach out to customers over the next two years to help with any device replacements that might be needed, whether they are covered by 4G or not.

“We know some customers are still connecting to 3G in areas where 4G is available, which is predominantly due to the age of the device being used,” Beder said. “Some of these older models can’t make voice calls over 4G and so they fall back to 3G when calls are made, so it’s important that they’re replaced ahead of the 3G closure. Other customers may have the capability on their phone but need to enable it in their settings.”

Related article: Telstra plans to close down 3G in 2024 to free up 5G spectrum

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