Will you be affected by the big 3G Switch-off?

Will you be affected by the big 3G Switch-off

In 2021, the UK government entered into an agreement with mobile network operators (MNOs) to phase out second-generation and third-generation technologies by 2033. So will you be affected by the big 3G Switch-off?

The decommissioning of third-generation (3G) mobile network services technology is now underway across the UK. Currently, networks employ four generations of technology, including 2G, 3G, 4G, and the latest, 5G. In December 2021, an agreement between the government and MNOs stipulated that 2G and 3G services would be phased out by 2033. Key network providers involved in this transition include Vodafone, EE, O2, and Three. Providers have the flexibility to decide when to discontinue 2G and 3G services within the specified timeline.

Second-generation technology was introduced in the early 1990s, followed by third-generation technology in 2003. While there has been significant anticipation regarding the potential of 5G technology, many areas still await network support for its full implementation.

Here is an overview of the 3G services phase-out by network providers:
Vodafone: Vodafone, serving over 18 million customers, intends to shut down its 3G network across the UK this year. This move allows Vodafone to redirect its focus towards investing in its 4G and 5G networks. The 3G network has already been discontinued in Plymouth and Basingstoke, and the national shutdown will continue throughout the year. Cities like Hull, Oxford, and Greater London are scheduled for the 3G shutdown in June. Later this year, the network will deactivate 3G in the South of England, followed by the rest of the UK.

EE: EE plans to phase out its 3G network in 2024. The company aims to concentrate on bolstering the more reliable 4G and 5G networks. EE has assured customers that over the next year, they will provide support to users transitioning from 3G to 4G or 5G. Customers can stay updated on coverage and network status through EE’s website.

Virgin Media O2: O2 has not yet announced its scheduled 3G switch-off date, as indicated in an Ofcom report. Thus, 3G services for this network will continue until the company releases details of its phase-out. Customers can verify available technologies in their area through the network’s coverage checker.

Three: Three plans to gradually phase out 3G network services over the next two years, aiming for a complete shutdown by 2024. Customers will be migrated to the UK’s 4G and 5G networks. Three recommends users consider upgrading their devices to ones compatible with 4G and 5G data and calling (VoLTE) capabilities. Customers can check for 4G or 5G coverage availability in their area through the network coverage checker.

These four providers constitute the primary mobile network operators in the UK, with other mobile companies offering their services over these networks. Some of these secondary providers, according to Ofcom, include Lebara Mobile, Asda Mobile, Talk Mobile, VOXI, Your Co-op, 1p Mobile, Utility Warehouse, Ecotalk, Plusnet, BT Mobile (Vodafone network); iD Mobile, Smarty, Freedompop, Superdrug Mobile (Three network); and Tesco Mobile, Giffgaff, Sky Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Lycamobile (O2 network).

The transition to phase out 3G services may impact users with older devices designed for 2G or 3G networks but not later generations. Such devices may face limitations in making calls, sending messages, or accessing data in areas where 3G has been deactivated. Users with older phones may also encounter difficulties connecting to newer technologies like 4G and 5G networks.

To address concerns and navigate options, users are encouraged to consult their network providers. Ofcom has clarified that even after the 3G phase-out, customers on EE, Vodafone, and O2 networks using older devices can still use 2G for voice calls and text messages until 2G is also phased out. However, since the adoption of 4G devices is already widespread, most mobile users are unlikely to be affected. Networks are required to provide customers with up to 12 months’ notice before initiating the 3G phase-out.

For individuals with older devices, Three, which lacks a 2G network, recommends upgrading to devices compatible with 4G and 5G. Customers are encouraged to check their device specifications to ensure compatibility. Devices like the iPhone 5C or 5S and newer support 4G networks.

Detailed instructions for checking device capability are typically available through the device’s settings.

The phase-out of 3G technology will impact devices reliant on 2G and 3G mobile connectivity, including telecare alarms, security alarms, ATMs, and payment terminals. Users of such devices are advised to upgrade their equipment to ensure continued functionality once 3G networks are discontinued across the country. Device suppliers or service providers can provide information on compatibility and options.

The government is collaborating closely with Ofcom and network service providers to ensure that sectors relying on 2G and 3G are informed about the changes and adequately prepared for the transition.

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