Vodafone To Switch Off 3G Network Next Year

Two of the big four mobile operators in the UK have now confirmed their plans to switch off 3G networks by 2023.

BT said in July 2021 that it will phase out its 3G network in the UK by 2023 for EE, Plusnet, and BT Mobile users.

Now Vodafone has become the second mobile operator to announce it will begin the retirement of its 3G network in 2023.

3G retirement

The government last month had announced that that the UK’s second generation (2G) and third generation (3G) mobile networks would be switched off in 2033, in order to bolster the UK’s mobile security, and encourage operators to deliver 5G networks.

But EE, and now Vodafone, are looking to achieve this switch off a decade ahead of the official switch off date in the UK.

It should be noted that Vodafone has already retired its 3G networks in Italy and Germany, and it will use this experience to help it retire the UK 3G network.

Vodafone said switching off the 3G network in the UK will allow it to repurpose 3G spectrum, so as to provide its 4G and 5G networks with better coverage and speed.

Vodafone’s network modernisation programme will see 3G coverage being gradually phased out and replaced by strengthened 4G and 5G services, which should mean customers across more parts of the UK can access more reliable connectivity via more modern networks.

Vodafone has approximately 18 million customers in the UK, and its 3G network is 17 years old, having been launched back in November 2004.

The operator said that nearly 500 billion minutes of calls have taken place over its 3G network.

But it said that today, less than 4 percent of the data used on Vodafone’s network travels on 3G, in comparison to more than 30 percent in 2016.

Nevertheless, 3G networks are often the only available data options for remote or rural users, and there are many (often elderly people) who only have an old fashioned 3G or 2G phone.

Those old Nokia’s are of course famously tough to kill, and there are estimated to be 2 million people still using 3G handsets across all mobile networks in the UK.

Communication campaign

Vodafone said that in order to resolve this, it “will begin a campaign of communication to customers today, and will continue to share information, advice and guidance to customers to ensure they can stay connected during the change next year.”

The operator also wants to encourage tech-savvy younger smartphone users to “check in” with family and friends to see if they may need to upgrade their phone.

“We’re building the UK’s most reliable mobile network, and focusing on the technologies that best connect our customers and have the least impact on the environment,” explained Vodafone’s UK CEO, Ahmed Essam. “3G has connected so many customers over the last 17 years, but the future is 4G and 5G.”

“We’re going to be focused on giving customers a faster and more reliable mobile experience, and minimising our impact on the environment by taking away a layer of our network that uses inefficient equipment,” said Essam.

“We start communicating to customers about this today – our goal is for everyone to stay connected, and we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure that’s the case,” said Essam. “During the campaign, we’ll be asking customers not just to make sure that their own phone supports 4G and 4G Calling, but also to check in on friends and family.”

“There are people who aren’t confident with technology, and we want to ensure everyone is getting the help that they need, so that no one is left behind,” Essam concluded.

And Vodafone said there was good environmental reasons for retiring the 3G network, which will be an important part of Vodafone’s strategy to reach Net Zero by 2027.

The operator pointed out that modern 5G networks are more than 10 times as energy efficient as old 3G equipment.

There is no announcement yet about the fate of the 3G networks of Three and Virgin Media O2.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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