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Vodafone UK to Switch-Off 3G Mobile Network Within 2-3 Years

Monday, June 10th, 2019 (2:21 pm) - Score 8,166
vodafone mast and logo

Vodafone has quietly become the first UK provider to confirm that it will be “switching off 3G” services within the “next two to three years,” although we fully expect that EE, O2 and Three UK will eventually do something similar as they convert 3G spectrum to 4G or 5G. But 2G voice will remain as a useful low-power fall back.

The move is somewhat inevitable because there isn’t much reason for 3G mobile services to hog spectrum now that 4G is nearly mature with similar coverage (does the same job only better and faster), although switching it off will of course cause data connectivity problems for anybody who still relies on a 3G-only supporting Smartphone or Mobile Broadband router (there are plenty of cheap 4G alternatives but some will no doubt resent any kind of forced upgrade).

Nevertheless such a major platform migration will not be easy for the operator either as nobody wants to disconnect active 3G-only using customers, although there are only a tiny number of those left. Past a certain point it doesn’t make economic sense to keep the 3G spectrum alive when it could be put to far better use within 4G or 5G environments. Meanwhile older 2G spectrum will still have a role to play.

Andrea Dona, Head of Vodafone’s UK Mobile Network, said (Pocket Lint):

“2G will have a longer lifetime, a longer role to play, especially when it comes to the Internet of Things [like smart meters, for example] where you actually don’t need speed, you don’t need the capacity, you just need it to be ticking away in the background with low power…it doesn’t make economic sense to go out and change these devices.”

Rival operator Three UK today also confirmed that, as part of on-going 4G upgrades they will also be “converting 3G spectrum to 4G.” Refarming or converting spectrum for use with more modern platforms has now become a fairly normal practice within the industry as technology evolves, although as above it remains a complicated thing to do without disrupting end-users and requires a lot of planning.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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44 Responses
  1. Avatar Michael V

    I think it’s the right time to make this migration. With the introduction of 5G-NR it’s time to say bye to one of the previous Generations.
    Consumers have had many years to make the move to LTE phones, so it’s not like there’s going to be inconvenience. Well done Vodafone for making the 1st move.

  2. Avatar SimonR

    Out of ignorance – what do things like Kindles use? A Kindle with connectivity is 3G, yes?

    I’m guessing they don’t use Vodafone, but I’m guessing there are a lot of other connected devices that require a network to connect to (not necessarily IoT, but cars/vans/lorries, security/safety systems, etc.).

    People in general will have migrated off, but how much other stuff is there (not nec. Voda)?

    • Avatar AndyC

      Hummmm wonder who tom tom and garmin use on their satnavs with built in sim cards.

    • Avatar Phil

      “I’m guessing they don’t use Vodafone, but I’m guessing there are a lot of other connected devices that require a network to connect to (not necessarily IoT, but cars/vans/lorries, security/safety systems, etc.).”

      Most systems that need to “talk home” or send telemetry data tend to be 2G, simply because the hardware is cheap and does the job, so there are not so many that are 3G, and those that are 3G then their cellular modems will fall back to 2G.

      Kindles as an example of devices with 3G also have Wi-Fi so can still be used.

    • Avatar SimonR

      Thanks for that, and I’ve just noticed that the latest Kindles are now 4G.

      Coincidentally at work I’m researching bus ticketing systems this afternoon, several of which include 3G ship to shore comms (but – as you say – integrate GPRS).

      There’ll still be some casualties though somewhere.

  3. Avatar Chap

    Please correct me if I am wrong but don’t smart meters all use GPRS (2G) to send the readings home? If this is the case who is going to have to maintain their GPRS network forevermore?

  4. Avatar AndyC

    Wonder what the virtual providers think of all this? Or do they not get a say unlike all the ISP’s holding back openreach because they want to keep using the old copper systems.

    • Avatar Michael V

      Hey Andy. MVNOs do not get a say in what the Host MNO does.

      [Mobile Virtual Network Operator]

  5. Avatar Phil

    “Hummmm wonder who tom tom and garmin use on their satnavs with built in sim cards.”

    2G only and in some parts of the world these TomTom’s have now stopped working for live traffic updates. (Australia Vodafone has turned off 2G).

    Newer TomTom’s are able to use a mobile phones data using Bluetooth and some models will use Wi-Fi, so it’s only older models ones mostly affected.

    I’d be surprised if TomTom updated to 3G or 4G in their devices as they seem to favour customers using their own data plans via their phones, presumably this saves TomTom some money.

  6. Avatar Phil

    @AndyC

    “The 2g network isn’t being touched.”

    It was related to the question posted before. 2G is being touched, already turned off by Vodafone in Australia, and will be turned off in the UK in the years to come in order to re-farm the spectrum.

    • Avatar AndyC

      Oh, i get the impression from the story its being left alone as “it still has a roll to play”

      Not the first time ive been wrong on here lol

  7. Avatar gerarda

    This won’t make much difference to those of us who can’t even get a reliable 2G signal.

  8. Avatar Rob

    If your phone relies on 3G voice CSFB then this will cause issues. VoLTE is enabled from the service provider unless the operators have a workaround.

  9. Avatar 5G Infinity

    2 other aspects:

    – switching off 3G and relying on 4G means that a) operator has VoLTE network wide and that all the 4G capable phones are VoLTE enabled – something that is not true today. Hence 3G and 2G as a fallback, all MNOs need to look at the volume of voice on 3G versus the number of VoLTE enabled devices to ensure they have this covered.
    – all MNO’s must ensure a roamed handset is able to make a ‘999’ call, if the handset is 3G then a 2G fallback will be needed for at least 1 MNO.

    Separately, my car has a SIM in it – powers the services, eg concierge, etc. Does anyone know which MNO BMW uses in UK, and is it 2G or 3G?

    • Avatar Andrew L

      Depends on the age and features of your car.

      2014 or newer will be at least 3g.
      Basic connected drive was 3g.
      EBT or Pro Nav = 4g

      There are many variations though, and this will change by year.

    • Avatar Andrew L

      And it’s vodafone, or at least was!

  10. Avatar Glenn A Harrison

    I use my own phone, SIM only on the Three network. Because I couldn’t buy my phone from Three, I am unable to utilise VoLTE. That is voice calls over the 4G or LTE network. Hence, even though I may have an excellent 4G signal, voice calls have to be made using 3G. And the Three network do not have any 2G network utilisation anyway. What are Three’s plans I wonder?

    • Avatar mike

      I think Three’s VoLTE works with any supported iPhone even if Three didn’t supply it. Other phones might be different.

    • Avatar Berestonial

      Same here only I’m using a SIM free phone on vodafone. Now if I was to buy a phone from them I would be able to place calls over 4g however because it’s sim free it falls back to 3g for calls…

  11. Avatar spotify95

    My phone (Galaxy S7 Edge) supports VoLTE Calling in the hardware, but since it doesn’t have specific provider firmware, all voice calls have to CSFB through 3G.
    If this 3G is removed then it removes my ability to make or receive voice calls!
    We’re not ready for this yet. Only switch off 3G when every single phone on every network can do VOLTE straight out of the box, with no settings to change or firmware to update.

    • Avatar VFS9

      Depends on your network – All MNOs but Three have 2G to fall back on for calls so if you don’t have VoLTE enabled, your phone would use 2G.

      Also for Samsung handsets you can use wifi calling & VoLTE without it being on a MNO firmware. My S9+ & my girlfriends S9 are both direct from Samsung & we get both services through Vodafone no problem.

    • Avatar Mr Peter W Walker

      Quite simple to flash network specific OS to your phone. I have a generic samsung running three firmware and hence VOLTE etc works fine .

    • Avatar Phil

      “Also for Samsung handsets you can use wifi calling & VoLTE without it being on a MNO firmware. My S9+ & my girlfriends S9 are both direct from Samsung & we get both services through Vodafone no problem.”

      Same for Google Pixel phones and iPhones as these phones have all the settings built in that get applied automatically.

      Other phones don’t have the settings required from the factory hence they need to be flashed a mobile operator specific firmware which contains the necessary settings.

      In time these settings for VoLTE and VoWiFi can all be done automatically, and there is already a framework to do this, just isn’t used much at this time.

    • Avatar spotify95

      Never Samsungs do work without a problem on VoLTE from any network – I have been informed that the S8 or newer supports VoLTE on unbranded firmware. That’s certainly not the case for my S7 Edge.
      2G is archaic and the call quality is abysmal, and data rates are even more abysmal. Back in the days of 2G/3G only, I had to force my phone to 3G to stop my streaming media conking out all the time whenever it jumped to 2G!
      We’re in 2019 now, not 2003,,, or the late ’90s… there’s no place for 2G in 2019.
      Whatever 2G does, 3G does in a much better way.

  12. Avatar Rob

    You guys using VoLTE, do calls use up your data allowance? Does mobile data have to be on?

    • Avatar Phil

      “You guys using VoLTE, do calls use up your data allowance? Does mobile data have to be on?”

      No it doesn’t use your data allowance, and doesn’t require mobile data to be on, at least on my Pixel phone. The phone sets up a separate connection on the network for VoLTE data.

  13. Avatar Tim

    Vodafone could completely switch off their 3G today. All they would need is a roaming agreement with Three, O2 or EE. Then in 5-7 years 3G could be turned off completely.

    Just saying that there is no need for all the MNO’s to have 3G coverage.

    I’m more surprised that 2G hasn’t been switched off already. But as Vodafone and O2 have the best 2G I suspect they will keep this going to be able to sell the other MNO’s roaming.

    So it could work like this…

    2G from O2 & Vodafone with roaming from EE (Three have no need for 2G as they have no support for it anymore)
    3G from Three and EE with roaming from O2 and Vodafone
    LTE and 5G provided by each network (no national roaming)

    All bands freed up from not being used by 2G or 3G can be reframed for LTE or/and 5G.

    • Avatar Mark

      Yes Three still needs 2G backup, my Cotswold town still uses an telegraph Orange 2G only mast, there’s no Three signal, 2G is the only signal from all networks in the Town very weak, the mast 2 miles away which is a TV relay was never upgraded because of it’s remote location, many times the networks have tried to get a mast nearer but locals oppose it, the networks have not said you will never get an upgrade to 4G. So that’s any area of over 3500 population. So clearly 2G is still need.

  14. Avatar Tim

    Well in my house I can’t even get 2G, or a signal half the time. Plus the text messages are non existent even when they are sending me a code to get on to my account. So I think I shall be changing companies when my contract is up.

  15. Avatar Phil

    @Tim

    “Well in my house I can’t even get 2G, or a signal half the time. Plus the text messages are non existent even when they are sending me a code to get on to my account. So I think I shall be changing companies when my contract is up.”

    Every mobile phone company has examples like yours, coverage isn’t 100%. It’s either a case of trying each mobile phone company to see what reception is like (fairly painless by asking for a free ‘pay as you go SIM’ before committing), or finding another solution.

    A compatible phone and Wi-Fi calling (assuming you do have broadband at your property) would resolve all the reception issues in your home, however only EE (I think still the case) being the only mobile operator that supports text messaging over Wi-Fi, the others just support calls, so not much use when you need two factor authentication using an SMS, so EE might be your only option if using Wi-Fi calling.

    Another option is a femtocell, (Vodafone do one called SureSignal), this plugs into your broadband and essentially gives you your own private phone mast and is compatible with any 3G phone, and will support several Vodafone phones in your home.

    • Avatar Mark

      Not really an acceptable solution in 2019, in a populated area of a few thousand people, were not talking about half a dozen people, planning and people need to stop objecting, the Cotswolds isn’t some unique place where progress has to stopped at all costs,a solution has to found, you cant keep refusing even a Telegraph pole mast because a few people think they will die of radiation, or is my area the last populated area never to get 4G because it’s full of loons.

    • Avatar ACDEAG

      Three and O2 support text messages on wifi calling, well they do on iPhones

  16. Avatar Rudy

    I rarely get 4G, so I really hope not…

    75% of the time I get H+ outside…
    If I’m lucky I get 3G.

    4G is only in town…

    • Avatar spotify95

      H+ is a form of 3G so if Vodafone turn it off, you’ll lose it (and access to data). 2G is archaic and should have been switched off 4 years ago IMO

  17. Avatar Michael V

    I get that people may be worried if they don’t have VoLTE support from their MNO for their phone, but when the 3G bands are refarmed to LTE there will be voice as well as data. There’s really nothing to worry about. All phones the last few years will support LTE over 2100 & mostly 900mhz too.
    For those on Three, in a lot of places there is now voice support over 1800mhz – Band number 3, In addition to 800mhz – band 20.

    [I use LTE discovery, on Android]

    • Avatar spotify95

      Refarming 3G still won’t turn a non VoLTE phone into a VoLTE one.
      If anything, 2G should have been refarmed as 3G does HD voice and data at a good speed (certainly a lot better than 2G). 2G won’t even do a basic Tunein Radio stream, yet 3G can do HD YouTube without any problems!

  18. Avatar t0m5k1

    As a vodafone mobile customer I hope that they put up more 4g antennas (of any brand) as my phone keeps dropping to 3g and if they turn off 3g I’ll be offline!

  19. Avatar Mark

    Well that’ll lose them some customers, stupid decision because LTE is not widespread at all! But hey in the UK mobile operators can do what the hell they like seemingly.. when they can offer 99.99% UK 4G coverage then they can turn it off..

  20. Avatar Mark

    People keep talking about turning 2G off. You do realise thats all some areas have got, not everywhere has been upgraded to 4G.

  21. Avatar tom hardy

    Yup, I agree with it but if you have any type of router then you do not face any kind of problem. Just browse it and get more help, I think that will be fine for all.

    https://oniton.com/blog/netgear-wn3000rp-setup/

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