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For Faster Internet, Ministry of Communication and Information Asks Operators to Review 3G Network Removal

The plan of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to make the 4G cellular network the backbone of connectivity in Indonesia continues to be matured. The government has asked cellular operators to review plans for the elimination of 3G networks, which are considered to be inefficient and effective in the midst of limited frequency spectrum.

Director General of Resources and Equipment for Post and Information Technology / Acting Director General of Post and Information Technology of the Ministry of Communication and Information, Ismail, said that the use of telecommunications by the public was increasing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Operators then compete to provide a variety of services to support socio-economic activities that customers can carry out through the digital space, relying on a limited broadband network.

“Now, the broadband or broadband network in Indonesia is utilized by operators by providing parallel services from 2G, 3G, 4G, to the latest 5G. This raises cost issues for operators in terms of network, human resources, and also preparing the supporting ecosystem,” said Ismail in the discussion ‘Digitalization Still Needs 3G?’, Tuesday (16/3).

The second problem that arises according to Ismail is the limitation of the frequency spectrum. According to him, the government gives freedom to operators to choose what technology they will use to serve the needs of the community or adhere to the principle of neutral technology.

“When this limited frequency spectrum must be utilized by operators effectively and efficiently, if it is used to run 3G and 4G simultaneously, this will add a new burden to operators,” he said.

However, if viewed from the consumer’s point of view, Ismail assesses that the public will not care about the type of cellular network used by the operator. According to him, consumers just want the telecommunications service to be available anywhere, with good quality and affordable rates.

“If the operator wants to stop 3G, the public must be guaranteed that the service is available and affordable. Therefore, it is necessary to study first before turning off 3G. Because according to the research conducted, 3G service users are still in Indonesia,” said Ismail.

Citing OpenSignal data, Ismail explained that as many as 16.8% of telecommunication operator customers do not have devices that support 4G even though their area is already served by the fourth generation network. Then, as many as 10.9% of customers stated that the area was not yet available for 4G.

“Therefore, even though the regulations have adhered to the principle of neutral technology, the Communications and Informatics urges operators to deepen existing quantitative data. Do not let a decision harm the community. We want to get a report from the operator so that the quality of service can be improved, the termination of 3G is carried out properly because we have reviewed various aspects,” he said.

IndoTelko Forum founder Doni Ismanto Darwin assessed that this year will be the era of 5G cellular network technology where it is predicted that by 2026 in Southeast Asia, it is predicted that there will be 400 million users with the largest portion in Indonesia.

Doni assessed that maintaining outdated and high-cost cellular technology such as 3G is certainly not in the same breath as the spirit of digital transformation

“Cutting off 3G nationally will be a symbol of now being the year of digital transformation in Indonesia, like in other countries. In the United States, players such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile will cut off 3G services this year according to a plan from The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which will utilize 3G frequencies for 5G,” Doni said.

It is recommended that the Ministry of Communication and Informatics need to imitate the FCC’s steps which provide a roadmap for business actors to cut off 3G immediately.

“The roadmap contains the schedule, the start of the cut-off cluster, service mitigation, customer education, and others. If the regulations can be issued quickly, I think operators can immediately cut off this year because they are technically ready,” he said.

Secretary General of the All-Indonesian Telecommunication Providers Association (ATSI) Marwan O. Baasir ensured that all operator member associations support the government’s efforts to accelerate digital transformation as one of the strategies to restore the country’s economy after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“For this reason, we continue to develop telecommunications infrastructure throughout Indonesia. We also support the discourse of eliminating 3G, because then the 2,100 Mhz frequency spectrum can be optimized by operators for 4G and also 5G which is more efficient from various aspects, “said Marwan.

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According to ATSI’s record, the amount of traffic using 3G in Indonesia is currently less than 10% of the total data traffic of all operators. He said that more people today feel the benefits of using 4G because it can provide faster internet access, thus creating comfort and convenience for people to adopt other digital services.

Director of Network Telkomsel Nugroho explained, the higher the generation of cellular networks used by consumers, the more telecommunications services that can be enjoyed. So, according to Nugroho, operators no longer need to provide all the fifth generation network services for their customers.

“The first reason is, we are certainly not comfortable watching YouTube if the internet speed is limited. Second, there is duplication of 3G services which can actually be done using 2G. Third, there is a limited spectrum from the regulator which should be more optimally utilized by operators. So we need to stop 3G to optimize 4G and 5G,” said Nugroho.

According to him, each operator has a different strategy in providing services to its customers. Telkomsel itself chose to maintain 2G services and turn off 3G, in order to maintain the reliability of 4G and 5G services.

“Our target is to complete it by the end of 2022. However, don’t worry because Telkomsel is committed to maintaining customer satisfaction. So that the migration process to 4G and 5G as well as discontinuing 3G does not have an impact on customers. We are intensively communicating with customers, including replacing customers’ SIM cards so they can use 4G and 5G,” concluded Nugroho.

Responding to the discourse of closing the 3G network, Member of the Communication and Education Commission of the National Consumer Protection Agency (BPKN) Heru Sutadi stated that technological development is something that must happen in order to get better service. However, he asked the government and mobile operators to pay attention to the rights of customers.

“If 3G is replaced by 4G, we need to pay attention to the impact so that we can continue to provide maximum service. It is necessary to socialize the 3G shutdown in any affected areas. So if 3G is turned off, people are ready. Operators also need to ensure that the 4G and 5G networks in the areas where the 3G shutdown will be shut down are available. This migration process must provide benefits to the community, not the other way around,” said Heru.

Head of Complaints and Legal Affairs of the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) Sularsi reminded that the telecommunications industry has a poor track record when migrating CDMA to GSM a few years ago.

Sulastri believes that the government and operators already have data on the number of users and areas of society that still rely on 3G networks.

“From the data, socialization and education can be intensified to the local community in various ways. Does the SIM card and device need to be replaced? If it needs to be replaced, make sure that a bundling package is available at an affordable price because not all people can afford it economically. The spirit is equal access to technology, so it is the responsibility of the state to guarantee it,” said Sulastri.

Chairman of the National Telematics Infrastructure Division of the Telematics Society (Mastel) Sigit Puspito Wigati Jarot assessed that the implementation of the elimination of 3G networks also needed to guarantee several things. So that it does not cause legal problems in the future.

“If this switch off can improve the health of the industry, it needs to be done. Second, it can increase network and spectrum efficiency so that the spectrum is not wasted. Then by doing this, the quality and distribution of infrastructure as well as technology upgrades can be faster,” said Sigit.

According to him, these three conditions can only be done with government regulations that have a digital character.

“If you still use the previous model regulations, there will be many things that are hampered. One more thing, currently the distribution map of the digital competitiveness index score per province is still high in only a few islands. If you switch off 3G, will it create new gaps between provinces?” he asked.

Chairman of the Indonesian IoT Association (Asioti) Teguh Prasetya, stated that the association has conducted a survey on the elimination of 3G to all members, which in fact are companies that use technology to run their business.

“As many as 62% of our members are no longer using 3G. Then 86% of them said they were ready if there was no more 3G. However, there are still many who hope that 3G switching off should be done in another 2-3 years waiting for the service life of the devices they have,” said Teguh. (RO/OL-7)