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Mobile Operator EE UK Confirms Closure of 3G Signal Box Service

Saturday, January 22nd, 2022 (12:01 am) - Score 14,040
EE-Signal-Box

Mobile operator EE has quietly confirmed that their indoor femtocell based signal booster device (‘Signal Box‘), which used an existing fixed line broadband ISP connection to create its own indoor 3G mobile signal over a specific band (e.g. 2100MHz), will be “fully closed” (for existing customers) by 30th June 2022.

The move does not come as much of a surprise because such devices have largely already been replaced by the spread of Wi-Fi Calling across the UK’s major operators. This uses your home or other internet (broadband) connection to serve mobile calls and text (SMS) messages via WiFi. Likewise, the wider UK plans to sunset 2G and 3G services represent another nail in the coffin of such devices (here).

NOTE: It’s important not to confuse these devices with indoor signal repeaters, which merely boost an existing mobile signal.

As a result of the above, mobile operators have been steadily withdrawing their femtocell / microcell based signal boosters (here). Similarly, EE had already stopped selling their Signal Boxes to new customers. Suffice to say, it was only a matter of time before the service was fully closed, although in July 2021 the operator refused to say when this might occur and said they “continue to support existing customers.

However, at some point over the past month or so, EE has updated their Signal Box page to state that they’re “planning to fully close the 3G Signal Box service by 30 June 2022.” The catch is that, for some people, Wi-Fi Calling is still far from a perfect service (i.e. support varies between Smartphones and it may struggle to work in areas of weak or congested WiFi) and they would have preferred to retain the Signal Box for a little longer. Sadly, it was not to be.

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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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26 Responses
  1. Ollie C says:

    Disappointing… one operator follows another and they’re all the same, be it one annual price increases, EU roaming (save for O2?), and now removal of femtocell products. I previously tended to find my battery dives when there’s poor signal, and where I live (which is rural but no way in the middle of nowhere, most operators signal including EE is virtually non existent. Despite decent usage I often get to the evening with 50% battery remaining when at home with my EE Signal Box, so not pleased about this at all. What do I get in return for this loss of service… yay, an annual price increase of I guess near 10%! Fantastic.

    1. Netz says:

      Have you tried Wi-Fi calling?

    2. HR2Res says:

      “get a better phone”. You obviously enjoy spending other people’s money, @Damien!

      Why spend hundreds on a new phone to get carrier-enabled wifi calling when the phone you use is at least adequate in most other respects?

      I bought a new, unlocked LG G6 approaching 4 years ago now. It still works well, and on its original battery. At the mo anyway, there is no UK carrier (neither MNO no MVNO) that supports wifi calling on it, though the phone is obviously capable at some inner level as all the necessary menu structure exists and some UK and US carriers enable(d) it out of the box if you bought the phone from them.

      Now, I must admit that I have ogled the Pixel 6. It’s the first phone since I got my LG G6 that I’m tempted to swap it for … but I’m good at resisting temptation. However, there is at least one UK MVNO (the one I’m with) that does not support wifi calling on this new, “kilo”bucks phone. And the last time I looked, shortly after the Pixel 6 came out, there was at least one MNO (EE as it happens) that only seemed to support wifi calling if you bought the phone from them… and it wouldn’t even do that now if you get your 4G broadband where I live, as it seems the EE mast is down for an unspecified number of weeks while they build a new one 100 metres away from it.

      But to @Ollie C, I say, try wifi calling. If your carrier/phone combo doesn’t enable it, then try WhatsApp (or similar) calling. The caveat, of course, is that the person being called has to have that particular app, and it’s no good for calling conventional landlines.

      Still, come Xmas 2025, when we are all on VoIP…

    3. Mike says:

      Why not just use a Skype/VOIP app on your phone?

    4. Nick Soane says:

      Vodafone did this a little while after charging me around £100 for a sure signal box

    5. Lexx says:

      Almost all phones have ee WiFi and VoLTE calling baked into the phone for very long time (even bt WiFi calling works on some newer Samsung phones in last 2 years)

      For Vodafone and o2 not so much as originally they would only allow WiFi calling and VoLTE calling on branded oem phones sold by the mobile company (3uk hit of miss if it had VoLTE support)

      Or buy any iPhone 8 or higher phone as they have WiFi calling (turned off by default, setting > phone > WiFi calling) and VoLTE support out of the box

  2. Alex Haines says:

    Bummer. Use my two extensively at two sites with little signal. Going to make staying ‘in-range’ that much harder.

    Also, what is being done with all the old ones. Have they got a buy-back program on the go? I hate when things like this happen because you can guarantee the average consumer is going to chuck them in their grey bin and not even try and recycle them.

    Could you approach EE for a comment on the WEEE aspect of this announcement?

  3. Sam Perry says:

    They have to improve 4G, not everyone has Wi-Fi. Plus it’s limiting people.

    1. Matt says:

      Show me a person who uses this service who doesn’t have wifi.

    2. Lexx says:

      You need a router (that will have WiFi) to plug in and use the signal mini cells anyway

      Just get a phone (ideally samsung) that was made in last 5-7 years it have WiFi calling and VoLTE built in (if using ee) just have to enable it, most China phones have had it for over 7 years

  4. Major Domo says:

    WiFi calling is great, as long as the operator supports the phone. Are you listening Vodafone? I have a OnePlus 6, not an unknown manufacturer, which Vodafone doesn’t appear to have heard of. EE fully supports WiFi calling with my phone, which is why I haven’t and can’t shift to Vodafone.

  5. Guy Cashmore says:

    O2 are still selling these new, actually two versions domestic and business, so I don’t see them withdrawing the service any time soon.

    Ours has operated faultlessly for many years and provides indoor coverage in a 150 year old building with 4 foot thick walls.

    WiFi calling isn’t the answer for people who work in farming and other dirty/wet businesses, the standard phones that mobile operators sell simply aren’t tough enough, most use Blackview and similar 3rd party ‘tough’ phones, but these don’t support WiFi calling – only operator sold phones appear to do so.

  6. Johnny says:

    My problem with this is that it would be ideal for rural areas where they have poor WiFi. Yes they are pushing out 5G but rural areas might not even see 5G or a decent 4G connection for sometime. Also the local Morrisons does not have any connection at all it’s underground and they don’t have any signal boosters in the store

  7. David O'Shea says:

    I used this service from BT, After my android phone updated, it stopped me from selecting 3g only so my phone receives a ver weak 4g signal both inside and out. I live on the coast so we get reduced service by default according to EE and BT. Both phones support WiFi calling and I have 150mb/s gfast connecting. Telephone calls are poor and WiFi calling to me is a waste of time. If I walk too far away from my router in the middle of a call it disconnects. In my opinion my mobile is now useless and I use the landline for calls and now pay for 700 landline and mobile minutes to save on costs.

    1. Mike says:

      Why not just call via Skype/WhatsApp etc. ?

    2. Danny says:

      Sounds to me that you you need to fix your WiFi out. Maybe get a mesh network, these can be purchased rather cheaply too

  8. Scott says:

    It really isn’t a surprise that this service is being set to EOL. EE are already charging ahead with sunsetting 3G in order to re-use the frequencies for 4G services. Ceasing 3G transmission will help them achieve their strategy.

  9. Michael V says:

    Technology moves on.
    almost all phones from the four MNOs support VoWiFi & there’s plenty of cheaper phones to pick from now.
    Maybe it is time to get a new phone that has VOICEoverWiFi/VoLTE…

    We’ve had VoLTE since 2015 & with 5G now switch off of 3G was only to be expected.
    This move makes absolute sense to do it this year as EE are switching off 3G starting next year.

    Yes we are holding onto our phones for longer but there is only so long one type of network will be supported.

    For those people who are affected by this, it’s time to start thinking what you can do & options you have.
    > If one doesn’t have home WiFi, one could benefit from VoLTE.
    > Maybe it’s time to switch operators of you have no service at home.
    > If you have a 4G phone that isn’t VoLTE [LG G6] then it will fall back to 2G for calls.

    1. Declan m says:

      I live just outside Edinburgh and EE are already starting to decommission 3G masts

  10. yeehaa says:

    It amazes me that GSM (2G) a technology that commercially launched the 1990s will outlast UMTS (3G). Perhaps GSM might still even be with us in the early 2030s meaning circa 40 years longevity, which in the technology world is like the equivalent of a century!

    1. Mark says:

      Let’s hope so we only get 2G Vodafone and O2 the TV relay which 5he 2G equipment is attached too has never been upgraded to 3G or 4G.And apparently is too expensive to backhaul due to landowners National trust and ancient woodland preventing upgrades.

    2. Lucian says:

      There are many more (legacy) devices and dumb phones still in use that use 2G rather than 3G. I still have one from 10y ago and it still works.
      Existing 3G devices can switch to 2G, but the other way around is not possible.
      Also, as a technology 2G penetrates far better than 3G and uses fewer and smaller frequency bands afaik.

  11. Arthurbikemad says:

    Main advantage was also that you don’t need to be logged into a femtocell box yo make a call, any phone on EE etc can make a call, no WiFi code required. I also found it to be more reliable than WiFi calling, mode phones are geared better for simple comms, after all, it’s where it all began.

  12. Paul M says:

    wifi calling isn’t very reliable for me on Three (with galaxy note 9), but their Homesignal box generally works ok (but I do have to reboot the box once a week).

    I tried wifi calling for a while late 2021, once we got better internet, and audio quality was good, but calls were unreliable as was SMS reception and deliver, so I switched back to the signalbox as it was more reliable.

  13. StephenM says:

    This box has been a lifesaver for me for the last 7 years giving me a stable 5 bar signal throughout my (rural based) home. My phone does NOT support WiFi calling. All those saying ‘why don’t you use Skype, VOIP etc’ haven’t a clue what real (non technical) people deal with.

    Also, I can’t afford my electric bill never mind squandering money on a new phone I don’t actually need! Current one works perfectly, and I thought we’re all meant to stop throwing good stuff out these days because of the dolphins?? All I want is a mobile signal, which this box offered in spades. The world is changing far too quickly for me now, glad I’ve not long to go…

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