Telecommunications operator China Unicom (中国联通) has begun closing down its 2G network and requested that services using the technology cease development, our sister site is reporting.

The company has already started the process of frequency reduction and has shut down over 100 low-traffic base stations, a move that it says will help further develop its 4G network.

According to the report, China Unicom’s 2G users make up 2% of its 280 million-strong customer base. Once the 2G services have been halted entirely over 5 million customers who made use of the company’s 2G services will no longer have access to the network.

The company said removing 2G infrastructure could be realized in a short time.

In total, there are over 1.57 million 2G base stations and 290 million 2G users in China. Additionally, vast numbers of internet of things (IoT) devices are reliant on these networks to communicate.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology last year began allowing operators to deploy narrowband internet of things (NB-IoT) technology, which enables devices that use small amounts of data to communicate almost anywhere, over the GSM band.

There were over 888 million people using China’s 4G networks last year, representing 65% network penetration. Users making use of 3G and 4G services accounted for over 1 billion of the country’s population.

While China Unicom is rolling back its 2G services in favor of 4G, China is hoping to be at the forefront of 5G rollout and development. The country is host to a growing number of 5G pilot projects, with a presence in numerous cities around the country.

In December, China Telecom set up 5G base stations in Lanzhou. Other cities hosting pilot projects include Shenzhen, Chengdu, Xiong’an, Suzhou, and Shanghai.

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.

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