UK’s 2G, 3G Networks Switched Off By 2033, Government Says

The British government has decided that the UK’s second generation (2G) and third generation (3G) mobile networks will be switched off in 2033.

The government’s announcement is being described as a way to bolster the UK’s mobile security, and encourage operators to deliver 5G networks.

Whichever way it is described, the decision is long overdue. 2G (and 2.5G/GPRS) networks were first introduced back in the 1990s, and are still used today for mobile calls and text messages. The first commercial 3G networks arrived in the UK in 2003, and offered painfully slow (by today’s standards) browsing capabilities.

Great switch off

So the Government announcement this week that 2G and 3G mobile networks will be phased out of use in the UK by 2033. will not come as a surprise to many.

The Government said the phase out is part of measures to increase the security of telecoms supply chains and to support a smooth transition to faster mobile networks.

And the announcement by Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries comes alongside £50 million of telecoms research and development projects, ahead of her first visit to the United States where she will meet with US Secretary for Commerce Gina Raimondo.

The good news is that the government has the support of the UK’s mobile operators for the switch off.

Mobile operators Vodafone, EE, Virgin Media O2 and Three have all agreed that 2033 will be the date by which all public 2G and 3G networks in the UK will be switched off.

Some of course have already pledged to kill off the legacy networks before that date.

BT for example, said in July this year that it will phase out 3G in the UK by 2023 for EE, Plusnet, and BT Mobile users.

The switch off move will of course free up valuable spectrum, which in turn will assist the mass rollout of 5G and other future networks such as 6G in the years ahead.

New technologies

The government pointed to its £200 million 5G Testbeds and Trials programme, which is already seeing next-generation networks to assist certain industries.

This includes smart farming, to immersive reality experiences, to enhancing the UK’s top tourist destinations, and 5G buoys to help British coastguards save lives at sea.

“5G technology is already revolutionising people’s lives and businesses – connecting people across the UK with faster mobile data and making businesses more productive,” said Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries.

“Today we are announcing a further £50 million to put the UK at the forefront of mobile connectivity and to make sure our telecoms networks are safe and secure now and in the future,” said Dorries.

“We can only do this through stronger international collaboration and I will be meeting with our US allies today as we strengthen our ties on technology,” she concluded.

Open RAN rollout

Coupled with the retirement date announcement for 2G and 3G, the government and network operators also announced new plans to accelerate the rollout of Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN), which enables mobile networks to be built using a variety of different equipment suppliers.

Open RAN (or open radio access networks) it should be remembered is designed to help mobile operators speed up 5G network development through its open architecture.

Essentially it is used in equipment that provides the link between a mobile phone and the mobile network, and includes equipment such as mobile antennas typically located on mobile masts (cell towers) and buildings.

Because Open RAN has an open architecture, it allows for equipment from different suppliers that meet the standards to used together in an interoperable manner.

And open networks can feature components from multiple suppliers within one mast site or allow for components to be exchanged or used as replacements at masts that, until now, have been kitted out by a single supplier.

The new plans announced by the government include a joint ambition for 35 percent of the UK’s mobile network traffic to be carried over Open RAN by 2030, £36 million in funding for fifteen projects to trial the technology across Scotland, Wales and England, and a £15 million cash injection for the SONIC prototype testing facility for next-generation telecoms tech.

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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