Electronic communications round table: we need future-proof solutions to prepare for the post-3G world

Published: 17 May 2021

3G mobile networks have become outdated as the new generation of networks outperform this technology in terms of user experience as well as spectrum and energy efficiency; yet we cannot simply say goodbye to 3G overnight. This was the topic of the online roundtable discussion joined by representatives of the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) and telecommunication service providers at the online symposium on the World Telecommunication Day on 13 May. The NMHH’s expert of the event analysed the foreseeable trends in electronic communications.

The maintenance of 3G, i.e. the third generation networks, is costly, thus shutting down the network would free up a lot of resources for the development of new, more efficient and advanced networks, given that 3G accounts for less than 5 percent of domestic mobile data traffic. Nonetheless, we need to consider residential, corporate, operator and public authority aspects of this issue. This was the topic of the roundtable discussion between András Hegedűs, regulatory expert of Telekom, Tamás Bóday, Director of Integrated Services of Huawei, Ákos Kovács, Director of Corporate Product Development and Analysis of Vodafone, Győző Drozdy, consultant at Telenor and Péter Kollár, economic regulatory officer of the Frequency and Identifier Management Department of the NMHH, moderated by Vilmos Both, member of the board of IVSZ - ICT Association of Hungary.

The participants agreed that the 3G standard did not live up to expectations even at the time of its introduction, which is one of the reasons why they are not discussing the phasing out of 2G. The 4G network, which has exemplary coverage in Hungary, is more spectrum efficient, i.e. it allows a more frequency-proportional data transmission and is more energy-efficient, so it is more environment-friendly. With a suitable device, 4G provides way better user experience than 3G. But who is it who still uses 3G nonetheless? Those in the general population who use the handset primarily for voice calls; however, the 2G network can also handle phone calls. And those who are already open or can be made open to the benefits of the internet are now targeted by the thematic website of the NMHH’s educational campaign on the benefits of mobile broadband entitled “Netre Fel!” at www.netrefel.hu. The campaign was welcomed by the representatives of all service providers, as users already familiar with the advantages of the technology have already switched, so it is now a creative challenge to reach those who do not yet know what they can benefit from 4G.

It won't disappear overnight: machine-to-machine communication also needs a solution

In addition to residential users, professionals addressed the other main current use case of 3G, i.e. machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.  According to the participants, since this area of application usually involves low data traffic and the devices are designed for long service life and are often difficult to access (embedded or even dug into the ground), in many cases data transmission on the 2G service still offers a complete solution whether it is the 2.5G GPRS or the 2.75G Edge technology. However, due to the limitations of 2G, it is important that the devices that support 4G (or 5G) use the more modern technology, also because of the latter’s lower specific energy demand for data transmission.

A few months ago, the Infocommunications Authority warned the relevant public authorities, public enterprises and municipalities, as well as the top handset vendors, to prepare for the phasing-out of 3G. They were asked to take stock of the IT and telecommunications solutions that use this technology and consider how they would operate once the 3G networks are shut down. The Authority has also proposed that in future procurements they should only ask for offers for devices using future-proof technologies (4G and 5G).

And when exactly is the last day of 3G? No specific date has been given by any mobile operator, and the infocommunications authority cannot and does not impose such a deadline as operators are free to manage their acquired frequency rights. In the interests of their customers, operators are expected to switch off 3G networks in phases and only after careful consultation.

Broadband in all its forms has become the very foundation of our safety of life

István Bartolits, Head of the Technology Analysis Department of the NMHH, also gave a presentation at the virtual conference under the title “Landscape after the pandemic – paradigm shifts in infocommunication”. In his presentation, Bartolits analysed foreseeable trends in the future of the telecommunications sector. The expert stressed that in most cases only “mild” or “moderate” versions of last year’s forecasts came true: economically, the sector suffered a decline of USD 56 billion, or 3.5 percent. It will take around two years to recover from the downturn. At the same time, Covid has left some areas untouched (for example, fixed broadband and IoT have continued to grow), while in other areas the pandemic actually has given a new impetus to developments.

For example, in online entertainment (streaming and online gaming) and in business cloud solutions that support home office work we have seen several years’ worth of progress in just a single year. He described two key long-term implications. The first is that in the future, broadband internet access will no longer needed by just a specific segment of the market but will become the very foundation of our security. Optical networks will become even more important and DOCSIS 4.0 will also be introduced in the cable market. In addition to the roll-out of 5G systems, intense preparations are underway regarding the requirements for 6th generation mobile systems. The development of broadband global satellite access systems has also accelerated. The second consequence of the pandemic is that many processes are now more practical to do without human resources, because it helps in the event of an epidemic, as has been evidenced recently. This has led to the emergence of artificial intelligence in all areas, including electronic communications. In addition, automated manufacturing is also driving the deployment of non-public 5G networks in the industry and in other geographically concentrated locations.

According to István Bartolits, there are still significant opportunities for telecommunications companies in the telehealth and distance learning sectors. The latter is already working, although less effectively than traditional classroom teaching, but this could be reversed in the future. Further developments in the near future could be boosted by the fact that the solutions of the past year created out of necessity have resulted in a surge in the adoption rate of virtual services.

The online symposium of Széchenyi István University of Győr can be viewed in its entirety at https://tavkozlesvilagnap.sze.hu/2021/elo/ with István Bartolits' presentation starting at 33 minutes, and the roundtable discussion at 1:05.20.