Switzerland: Final end for GSM mobile communications at the beginning of 2023

The second largest Swiss telecommunications provider Sunrise UPC is dismantling its GSM network (2G) starting January 3, 2023. The largest Swiss telecommunications group, Swisscom, definitely deactivated the 2G network from the beginning of 2021 until April of the same year. Mobile operator Salt (formerly Orange) has now switched off its GSM network.

Sunrise has not yet switched off the 2G mobile network in order to offer its users a longer transition period, the company emphasizes in a press release. “For the benefit of our customers, we have deliberately made the switch to a modern generation of mobile communications more flexible. However, since 2G connections are practically no longer required, we will also switch off 2G from the beginning of next year,” explains Sunrise boss André Krause.

Customers are only affected by the shutdown in individual cases. Because there are hardly any mobile phones in use that only run on 2G. However, where devices or M2M/IoT solutions (machine-to-machine communication and Internet of Things) still only work with 2G connections today, their users would receive various support when switching to a modern mobile communications standard (4G/5G), writes Sunrise UPC.

The mobile standard UMTS (3G), which is also becoming increasingly outdated, will remain for the time being – unlike in Germany. There, the 3G networks were switched off by all operators in 2021. In Switzerland, Sunrise plans to shut it down in the next three to four years, it said on Wednesday. Swisscom has announced that it intends to continue operating the 3G technology until the end of 2025. Salt Mobile is occasionally even investing in the third generation of mobile communications.

The problem with LTE (4G) is that many smartphones support LTE for data transmission, but not for phone calls (Voice over LTE, VoLTE). And even if they do, the implementation differs in the details, which can entail high support costs for the network operator. A pure 4G/5G service would be difficult to implement with the devices in circulation today.

Austrian network operators have not yet announced any concrete plans to phase out GSM and UMTS. Market leader A1 is considering starting the 3G switch-off at the end of 2024, but it is not definitive yet. The network operators are more likely to shift some 3G radio frequencies to 4G (LTE), but will continue to run on a 3G framework.

GSM is likely to last much longer because it is difficult to replace for network coverage for telephone calls and SMS. Austrian mobile phone customers have exceptionally high demands when it comes to network coverage, even on the third floor of a garage in the mountains. Therefore, GSM is a competitive factor in the country.

GSM (originally “Groupe Spécial Mobile”, later known as “Global System for Mobile Communications”) is the first digital mobile radio standard. The GSM networks (2G) followed analogue networks, which enabled mobile communications at high prices and often only in urban areas. The first German “cellular network” came online in 1958 – nine years after the first Radiovox service in Switzerland. Calls were switched by hand, and the whole thing was only mobile if you installed the thick tube radio system in the trunk of a large car. With a good 10,000 participants, the A-Netz was quite an exclusive event.

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Even the B-network, after all for self-selectors, was not a mass product. Mobile communications as we know them today began in 1985 in the old Federal Republic. With the analog C network, car phones became smaller and more or less affordable. 30 years ago, on June 30, 1991, GSM was finally introduced with SIM cards (then still the size of a credit card). With the GSM network, mobile phones became suitable for the masses.

In Switzerland, the national A network came in 1978, followed by the analogue networks B (1983) and C (1987). GSM went online on March 1, 1993. Skipping the A-Netz of the 1950s, Austria introduced the “public mobile land radio service” on May 5, 1974 – the B-Netz. The devices tended to cost more than the car in whose trunk they were installed. At the end of 1984, the B network was approaching its capacity limits with 1770 subscribers.

So the C network followed with portable “cell phones”, which could sometimes weigh 18 kilos. In 1990, another analogue network (called E-TACS D-Netz) with “pocket telephones” followed. In October 1991, the internal trial operation of the GSM network finally began, and for the commercial market launch in December 1993 the “E-Netz” with 400 base stations supplied Vienna and the airport.


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