UK 3G mobile networks are switching off
3G mobile networks in the UK are gradually being shutdown over the next few years to focus on using the space that will be freed-up to expand 4G and 5G network coverage.
As technology continues to evolve, older generations of mobile networks inevitably face the need for retirement. In the United Kingdom, the era of 3G mobile networks is gradually drawing to a close, making way for the more advanced 4G and 5G networks that offer customers better, faster and more reliable phone and data services.
Will I be affected by the shutdown of 3G?
Most people today already have a mobile phone or device that uses 4G or 5G technology, so the 3G shutdown will not affect them. If you are using an older handset that only allows for 2G and 3G connectivity (like an Apple iPhone 4), then you will need to upgrade to a newer device if you wish to continue to access mobile data. Calls and texts will still work as the 2G network is not due to be phased out until 2033 across the UK.
Other devices which use mobile networks, such as Emergency Medical Alert (EMA) personal care alarms, security alarms and payment terminals, might rely on a 3G network. These devices will need to be upgraded before the 3G networks are turned off for them to continue to fully function. If you have any such devices, make sure to check with your service provider to find out if you will be affected and what to do next, if they have not already contacted you.
When are UK networks switching off 3G?
Each of the four major UK mobile network operators (MNOs) will be switching off their 3G network over the next two years in their own time. Below is the current timetable for their planned 3G shutdown, however these dates might change, so be sure to check-in with your mobile provider for the latest update if you have not been contacted already.
EE 3G switch off
EE will begin switching off their 3G network on the 18th July 2023 for Warrington in Cheshire. By starting there, they plan to gradually support the switch over of customers from 3G to 4G and 5G networks, and enable a smooth nationwide shut down of their 3G network to the whole of the UK by January 2024.
O2 3G shutdown
O2 have not yet announced any 3G switch-off plans for their mobile network, however they have stated that they are supportive of the Government's plans of sunsetting 2G and 3G networks by 2033.
Three 3G phase out
Three will be phasing out their 3G network service gradually over the next 2 years and plan to have it shutdown by the end of 2024. Areas that are currently 3G only will have 4G coverage by the time the switch-off occurs.
Three have never had a 2G network since it launched as the UK's first 100% 3G network. So once they turn off their 3G network only 4G and 5G devices will be supported on the Three mobile network.
Vodafone 3G switch off
Vodafone are turning off their 3G network from June 2023. They have already shutdown 3G in Plymouth and Basingstoke and will be continuing their switch off with Hull, Oxford, and Greater London in June before moving onto the South of England. The rest of the UK will follow throughout 2023.
3G switch off for other networks
All the other UK mobile networks (MVNO) run their services using the network infrastructure from one the four main providers above, so the 3G shutdown dates for MVNOs will be the same as the network operator they run on.
For example, BT Mobile and Virgin Mobile use the EE network; giffgaff, Sky Mobile and Tesco Mobile use the O2 network; iD Mobile and SMARTY use the Three network; Lebara Mobile, Talkmobile and VOXI use the Vodafone network.
Visit the full up-to-date list of UK mobile networks to find out which service providers run on which networks.
Switching off 2G networks by 2033
As well as shutting down 3G networks, the UK government has agreed with mobile network operators to also sunset 2G networks by 2033 in order to free up spectrum for 5G networks and beyond.
This phase is expected to happen eventually over the next decade once the shutdown of 3G has been completed.
Worldwide switch-off of 2G and 3G networks
The United Kingdom is not the only country to be phasing out their 2G and 3G networks. Other countries around the world are also planning to do the same over time. The United States for example has already completed the shutdown of their 3G network.
Whether you use a local SIM card or your UK SIM for roaming, if you are planning to travel abroad while using your smartphone, either make sure your device is 4G or 5G compatible, or that the country still supports a 3G network. Otherwise you may find that you can't make calls or access data unless you are connected to a Wi-Fi network.
For more specific information regarding the 3G network switch-off, or if you have any concerns or questions, please contact your mobile service provider for further assistance.