Speaking at a press conference at MWC2022, Orange Group’s CTIO Michael Trabbia explained the company’s strategy for shutting down legacy services, aiming for a seamless transition
At MWC2022, Orange has announced that the company is now aiming to shut down 3G in its European markets, excluding France, by 2025. Furthermore, between 2028 and 2030, Orange plans to have shut down both 2G and 3G networks throughout Europe, migrating all its customers to 4G and 5G services.
France is an exception to this wider strategy, where instead the 2G network will be shut down first by 2025, with 3G to follow by the end of the decade. This is because in France, unlike the other markets, 3G is actually more prolific than 2G, with Trabbia explaining that Orange’s strategy is to shut down their most redundant networks first.
“It’s time to stop stacking technologies”, said Trabbia.
The motivation for shutting off these older networks is clear enough. Naturally, switching customers to 4G and 5G services will provide them with much higher quality of service, but there are other benefits too. For the operator, continuing to support these older networks is expensive and delivers little in the way of financial returns. Shutting down the older services will also allow the spectrum they use – primarily 900MHz in most markets – to be refarmed to support 4G and 5G services, helping to make these networks more robust and extending the time before new spectrum is required from the regulator.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to sunsetting of 2G and 3G is the savings when it comes to energy efficiency. Trabbia notes that 5G is expected to be ten-times more efficient than 4G, with these newer technologies magnitudes more efficient than their older counterparts.
Orange is currently planning to reach carbon neutrality by 2040, with energy consumption of the RAN still by far the operator’s largest contributor to its carbon footprint.
But while these energy savings of 5G are no doubt impressive, it is worth remembering that only 5% of Orange’s traffic is currently carried by its 2G and 3G networks, so the upgrade’s positive impact on energy consumption is somewhat capped.
Throughout the announcement, Orange was keen to stress the necessity of a seamless transition from the older networks to newer networks, with Trabbia saying “the road to 4G and 5G must be smooth”.
Currently, between 60% and 85% of Orange’s customers have devices capable of accessing 4G and 5G services, with Trabbia suggesting that the three-year deadline for network shutoffs will give customers plenty of notice to upgrade devices if needed.
“We want to give as much time as possible for all customers to migrate smoothly,” he said, also stressing that this timeline will mean that most customers will upgrade to a 4G/5G-capable device as part of the natural cycle of consumer device replacement.
It should be noted however that this shutdown plan is a little slower than some of the Oranges’s European neighbours. Both BT and Vodafone Group, for example, are aiming to switch off their 3G networks by 2023. There is a trade-off here: those company’s seeking to decommission their 2G and 3G networks earlier will see the benefits much sooner, but at the cost of heightened disruption to customers and services.
One area that could be impacted for Orange is its IoT space, with many of these networks reliant on 2G and 3G to support these devices. When asked about this impact, Trabbia said that there would be no rush to move all of these IoT devices to 5G, with other technologies like LTE-M and NB-IoT more than sufficient in the short term, but nonetheless the operator must be ready to “support the transition of its customers to a new solution”.
Earlier this week, Orange announced that it had selected Ericsson to supply its 5G standalone (SA) core in Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg, and Poland, and Nokia for its 5G SA core in France and Slovakia. The operator will also use Nokia’s Subscriber Data Management and Oracle’s 5G core signalling and routing in all of its markets.
According to Trabbia, Orange is planning its commercial launch of SA 5G in “most of the countries” in 2023.