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UK starts shutting down 3G networks: here’s what you need to know about it

    3G mobile networks, which first appeared in the UK 20 years ago, are on the verge of extinction.

    What happened

    Mobile services using 3G technology are provided in the UK by operators that are part of the “Big Four” – EE, Three, Vodafone and O2. However, according to media regulator Ofcom , such networks should gradually disappear over the next few years. And this process will be launched at the beginning of this year.

    Mobile communication networks in the 3G standard (and, especially, 2G) are built according to the old, not very efficient technology. They have been in operation in the UK since 2003 and provide voice calls, text messages and data at low speeds. Ultimately, UK carriers are starting to shut down such networks to make room for faster and more reliable 5G networks.

    Shutdown periods

    In 2021, the UK government entered into an agreement with mobile network operators Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three. It provides that by 2033 there will be a gradual cessation of the provision of mobile services in the 3G and 2G standards. True, providers were given the opportunity to freely choose exactly when they would stop providing communication services according to 3G and 2G standards within the time period allotted to them.

    • Vodafone announced that they will begin to refuse to provide communication services in the 3G standard at the beginning of 2023, and finally the entire 3G network will be turned off until December 2023. At the same time, the company does not plan to abandon its 2G network until the deadline – that is, until 2033.
    • EE also plans to phase out 3G services during 2023, after which the network will be shut down in early 2024. However, 2G services will be shut down “later in the decade”.
    • Three plans to stop providing 3G services by the end of 2024. However, Three has never had 2G networks as it started as the UK’s first 100% 3G network.
    • O2 has not been clear about when the 3G and 2G service will end, or if it will happen before the agreed cutoff date of 2033.

    From all this it follows that as of 2025, O2 will remain the only provider providing services in the 3G standard.

    Virtual Mobile Networks such as Giffgaff, Tesco Mobile and Smarty are closely linked to one or another of the Big Four networks. Accordingly, their services in the 3G standard will become a thing of the past at the same time as similar services of the parent network.

    The UK is not the first country to start phasing out 3G and 2G communications services. The United States has already shut down all of its 3G networks, and other countries around the world will follow suit on their own schedule.