The government has agreed with the UK mobile network operators (Vodafone, EE, Virgin Media, O2, and Three) that 2033 “will be the date by which all public 2G and 3G networks in the UK will be switched off“.
In July 2021, BT revealed plans to phase out 3G on their EE and Plusnet mobile networks by 2023, and now this month Vodafone has joined them with a deadline of 2023 for closing its 3G network.
Many other network operators and tech companies have already begun phasing out technology that support the older 2G and 3G services.
Why are networks doing this?
The idea behind switching off 2G and 3G is to enable operators to transition fully to more energy efficient and high-capacity networks.
Each mobile networks has access to a limited supply of bought spectrum, which they use to transmit mobile signals. The more spectrum that is available for a connectivity type, i.e 5G, the better coverage, reliability, and speed.
Not only does such a switch-off save money and cut power consumption by allowing the networks to retire dated, power-hungry equipment from the 3G era, but the freed-up spectrum can then be re-allocated to further develop 4G and 5G, and also future 6G. This will then help to improve coverage and service speeds for consumers across the UK.
We will likely see 3G phased out far earlier than 2G as the latter remains useful as a low-power fall back and is still essential for some more rural areas in the UK to remain connected. It is also needed for early IoT technologies and early Smart Meters that are dependent on it to continue working, until such time as they are upgraded or replaced to work with the newer 5G technologies
What will this mean for 2G and 3G consumers?
It is estimated that well over 2 million people are still using 3G-only smartphones across all the UK’s mobile networks. The number of consumers using 2G and 3G services, is expected to be “very low” by 2033, however it’s unlikely to be zero and there is a risk that many people, especially the elderly, who may not be tech-savvy or comfortable using newer smartphones, could be at risk of being disconnected and left behind. The 3G switch off is particularly concerning for those who live in rural areas and haven’t yet seen 5G, or even 4G services arrive and still rely on a 2G/3G-enabled handset to make calls in emergencies.
Because of all of this the Mobile Network Operators have committed to help their remaining 3G customers transition to newer network technologies before their planned switch off dates, and with the extra network spectrum gained when the 3G is shut-off, they should also be in a better position to more rapidly expand their 4G and 5G coverage for those rural areas that are still lacking it.
There are many other devices like older Kindles and tablets that will also lose internet access when 3G services are switched off. Many cars will be affected too, as a lot of vehicles with built in smart-services use 3G for their location and traffic data on navigation systems.