This article gives the shutdown dates for each UK operator’s 3G networks.
After more than a 20 year run, these networks are set to be switched off. In December 2021, the UK operators committed to a government plan to switch off their 2G & 3G networks by 2033. This includes EE, Vodafone, Three & O2.
However, many operators have brought forward the turn-off dates of their 3G networks to ten years before the deadline:
When is the EE 3G switch off?
EE will be phasing out its 3G network towards the end of 2023 before entirely shutting it down in 2024.
When is the Vodafone 3G switch off?
Vodafone has also set a deadline to turn off its 3G mobile network by the end of 2023.
When is the Three 3G switch off?
Three has set a slightly later deadline to switch off its legacy 3G network than EE and Vodafone. It is planning to switch off 3G services by the end of 2024.
When is the O2 3G switch off?
O2 is the only major mobile network operator that hasn’t announced a self-imposed deadline for its 3G network switch off.
This sets the default deadline for them to stop supporting 3G as 2033 - to stay in line with their commitment to the UK government.
What is 3G?
3G stands for third-generation mobile network.
Launched in 2002, 3G improved upon its predecessor 2G by offering users faster data rates & higher bandwidths.
This allowed users to perform more data-intensive tasks while on the networks, including web browsing, sending emails & standard definition video streaming.
The dominant 3G standard – UMTS – also introduced packet switching. Packet switching stops users from needing a dedicated channel to communicate. This allowed more people to connect to the 3G networks at any time compared to 2G.
Why is 3G being switched off?
The 3G networks are being switched off across the UK for various reasons:
Radio spectrum is a valuable finite resource. When the UK government auctioned off the 3G spectrum to the operators in 2002, it made more than £22.5 billion.
Shutting down the 3G networks allows operators to refarm the 900 & 2100 MHz bands used by the networks.
This allows the spectrum to host the more capable 4G & 5G networks, which offer far greater connectivity options for consumers.
For example, you could reasonably expect a 5G connection to offer you 150 Mbps download speed when gaming or video streaming. These speeds are 50x faster than the average speed a 3G connection will provide you.
Reaching Net Zero
Many operators claim that replacing inefficient 3G infrastructure will save energy usage across the mobile networks.
Vodafone, for example, claims that modern 5G networks are "more than ten times as energy efficient as old 3G equipment".
Low Network Usage
The 3G networks have increasingly lost their importance as 4G & 5G coverage has been expanded.
Vodafone saw 30% of its data traffic stem from 3G services in 2016. By 2021, only 4% of its data traffic came from 3G.
This decline in usage correlates with an increase in 5G based connections. Three estimates that 5G usage will account for 35% of its data traffic by the end of 2022.
With such low customer use, the 3G networks increasingly struggle to justify their operating costs in the long run.
2G Remains Standing
One of the main objections to shutting down 3G is that around 2 million people have old handsets that can't connect to newer networks like 4G & 5G phones can.
Many users of these phones argue that shutting down the 3G network will stop them from staying connected.
However, the UK operators have committed to leaving their 2G networks switched on towards the end of the decade. This gives users of these mobile phones continued connectivity for a few years longer (albeit with near non-existent mobile data rates).
If you want to understand when the 2G networks are being turned off & why - you can find out more here.
How does Streetwave Map 3G Coverage?
At Streetwave, we produce detailed maps of the mobile networks in the UK. This allows government, businesses and residents to understand mobile coverage in the places they live, leisure & work.
Our coverage insights allow you to track the roll-out and decommissioning of the network generations. You can visit our homepage to find out more here.