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Singapore to turn off 3G and reassign spectrum for 5G

3G networks will be retired in Singapore by July next year, freeing up spectrum for 5G services.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
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3G networks will be shut off in Singapore next July, giving a one-year roadmap for 1% of the mobile phone population to make the switch to newer generations.  

It marks an end to a 20-year infrastructure that largely has been replaced by 4G and 5G, according to local regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). 5G was commercially launched last year, with subscriptions now accounting for 15% of the total mobile subscriber base. Together with 4G, the two networks support almost 99% of mobile subscribers in the country. 

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All three local mobile operators -- M1, Singtel, and StarHub -- will retire their 3G services, including messaging and data, by July 31 next year. When the shutdown is complete, it will free up spectrum to improve 5G services, IMDA said. 

Countries such as Australia and the UK also are slated to retire their 3G services by next year, while others such as Taiwan, Malaysia, and the US already have done so. 

Singapore's mobile operators will have to ensure a smooth migration for their 3G subscribers, including enterprise customers, before shutting down their networks, IMDA said. These should include giving users the option to convert their plans to 4G on equal or better service terms. They also must be provided mobile phone options at different price points, the industry regulator said. 

Business customers should be provided support to transition to 4G or alternative services with the least disruption. 

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From February next year, retailers also must no longer sell 3G mobile phones or 4G models that require 3G networks for voice calls. The only exception here is for devices tagged for export. 

In a joint statement released Wednesday, the three local operators said they had been running various initiatives urging their 3G subscribers to transition to 4G and 5G networks. Further measures will be taken in the coming months to notify these customers of the move and provide help to those needing assistance migrating, the telcos said. 

These subscribers include those who are on 3G-only devices or early 4G models as well as customers who still are using 3G-only SIM cards. 

5G is projected to support 41% of mobile connections in Asia-Pacific by 2030, up from 4% this year, according to GSMA's Mobile Economy APAC 2023 report, which was released this week. The region will be home to 1.4 billion 5G subscribers by end-2030, with adoption fueled by falling device prices and rapid network expansion across several markets. 

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While mature markets such as Australia, Singapore, and South Korea are leading global 5G mobile innovation, other regional markets still face barriers that impact mobile access and adoption. 

Mobile internet services remain out of reach for 47% of the population in Asia-Pacific, which lag behind other global markets such as China and Latin America, the GSMA report noted. It cited poor digital skills, particularly among older populations, device and service affordability, as well as online safety concerns as some factors hindering adoption. 

Total mobile subscribers in Asia-Pacific will grow by 400 million to hit 2.11 billion by 2030. Mobile penetration will climb to 70%, though, this figure is lower than the global average of 73%, according to GSMA. 

The mobile industry contributed $810 billion to the Asia-Pacific economy last year, with this number projected to reach $990 billion by 2030. 5G alone will add more than $133 billion to the region's economy in 2030.

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