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Vodafone UK Reveals Plan to Switch-Off 3G Network from 2023

Tuesday, January 25th, 2022 (8:15 am) - Score 3,312
vodafone mast and logo

Mobile operator Vodafone UK has today announced that they will begin to retire their “legacy3G network from 2023 onwards. The gradual phase-out will enable them to repurpose the related radio spectrum bands to help boost the performance (faster broadband data), reliability and coverage of their existing 4G and 5G services.

The 3G service has been in operation for 17 long years, but it now accounts for less than 4% of the data used on Vodafone’s network (down from more than 30% in 2016). But switching it off will still cause data connectivity problems for anybody who still relies on a 3G-only device, which is why the operator will launch a year-long campaign alongside charities and consumer groups to “reach its most vulnerable customers and ensure everyone stays connected.”

NOTE: As part of the campaign, Vodafone will encourage its more tech-savvy customers to check in on friends and family. Vodafone is also partnering with The Good Things Foundation, and other third parties.

However, the move should not come as a big surprise because most operators, including Vodafone (here), have long signalled that 3G would be the first to go before the older 2G services. This is largely because 2G is still quite widely used (e.g. Smart Meters and other low powered IoT devices) and remains a useful fallback for predominantly voice-only style communications in some challenging (e.g. rural) areas.

The announcement also follows a recent deal between the government and mobile operators (here), which saw Vodafone, EE (BT), O2 (VMO2) and Three UK agree a national plan to phase out all existing 2G and 3G services by 2033. As above, the associated spectrum will be repurposed back for use to enhance modern 4G and 5G services.

Ahmed Essam, Vodafone CEO, said:

“We’re building the UK’s most reliable mobile network, and focusing on the technologies that best connect our customers and have the least impact on the environment. 3G has connected so many customers over the last 17 years, but the future is 4G and 5G. We’re going to be focused on giving customers a faster and more reliable mobile experience, and minimising our impact on the environment by taking away a layer of our network that uses inefficient equipment.

We start communicating to customers about this today – our goal is for everyone to stay connected, and we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure that’s the case. During the campaign, we’ll be asking customers not just to make sure that their own phone supports 4G and 4G Calling, but also to check in on friends and family. There are people who aren’t confident with technology, and we want to ensure everyone is getting the help that they need, so that no one is left behind.”

In addition, Vodafone claims that the retirement of 3G is an important part of their strategy to reach Net Zero by 2027, with modern 5G networks being “more than ten times as energy efficient” as old 3G equipment. Meanwhile, anybody who hasn’t managed to make the switch to 4G or 5G by the end of 2023 will find that their 3G phone drops back to 2G (we have seen some non-phone 3G-only devices that will simply cease to work).

We should point out that Vodafone are not the first operator to announce the retirement of 3G services. Last year saw EE reveal that it also planned to retire 3G by the end of 2023 (this represents just 2% of data traffic over their network). No doubt O2 (VMO2) and Three UK will soon confirm their own plans, although we understand that Three will not be changing their name to Four or Five at the same time 🙂 .

UPDATE 11:40am

We asked if Vodafone could clarify their exact plans for the spectrum under this change, and they have kindly obliged. Some 10MHz of spectrum in the 900MHz band is going from 3G to 4G, with trials to then reallocate 900MHz to 5G already underway.

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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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23 Responses
  1. Bob says:

    Great stuff. 3G is faster than “full bar 4G” where I live.

  2. Jake4 says:

    Does this mean they are also phasing out H+ or just 3G?

    1. cheesemp says:

      Wasn’t sure but checked it out – H+ uses the 3G signal so I guess its going. It can often be faster and stronger than 4g for me so really hoping the statement about using the frequencies from 3g to boost 4g are true. There really are some bad not spots where I live in my town just due to a few hills – any decrease in signal strength could make a mobile unusable here.

    2. MNO Employee says:

      Both. A significant part of this will be retiring the old 3G core network, in addition to regaining the spectrum. 2/3G, 4G and 5GSA networks are completely independent with only a few links between them usually.

    3. Michael V says:

      HSPA+ is 3G. More specifically 3.9G.

  3. ad47uk says:

    Well I hope their 4GT is better than it used to be a few years ago, because around here it used to be a waste of time, when I used Vodafone, my phone used to drop to 3G more times than it used 4G.
    Waste of time buying a 5G phone for around here, only one provider is setting up 5G, not that I will buy another phone until mine dies, however long that is, also not paying more for a 5G phone, for speeds I do not require.

    Still not 100% sure about 5G to be honest, still seems to be unreliable from what I have been told by other poeople in different towns.

    1. James says:

      5G is fine

  4. Sam Perry says:

    Lol Hutchinson Five… sounds like a bad northern boy band!

  5. Anuraj says:

    Good decision by Vodafone.

    Vodafone already start to use 900mhz for 4g.

  6. Pezza says:

    This will end in disaster as the governments involved in it. Unless 4G signals suddenly received a fat boost in signal strength and reliability when the 3G signal is turned off, all this will do is leave people with no mobile phone signals I suspect. But who knows maybe 4G signals will get a boost the same day 3G is turned off?
    In my area I get 3G to 4G depending on the weather.
    I can get a good 4G signal on EE so I may be forced to join someone using their signal, hardly a free market then tough is it. And I won’t join EE and pay the most for a contract on the market that gets price rises yearly on an 18 month contract.

    1. Joris Bohnson says:

      What am I missing here, the 3G spectrum will just get repurposed as 4G/5G, so there shouldn’t be any difference in service? If anything, an improvement?

      From their view, why run old and inefficient hardware when newer technologies can make better use of these sweet spectrum.

  7. tech3475 says:

    This might be annoying, I’m on Vodafone and where I live in parts I regularly drop down to 3G.

    Thankfully my contract finishes next year.

    1. Michael V says:

      They aren’t going to just switch off 3G & put nothing in it’s place. 4G voice will come to the remaining locations where there are just 2G & 3G masts.

    2. tech3475 says:

      @Michael V

      4G is in my area, the problem is that the signal can be intermittent at times and I want to use data. So I could say be waiting for the bus one day with 4G and the next day it’s 3G or I walk down the road and the signal switches between the two.

  8. Mark says:

    I dont like the idea of 2G being phased out eventually, the local vocal minority and council AONB etc have prevented any mast every being built to cover the small town we live, and we only get a very weak 2G signal, the local TV relay several miles away can’t be upgraded, oh well they’ll get what they deserve I suppose at the expense of the rest of us.

  9. Shakeel says:

    So what happens with Vodafone smart devices such as curve?

    1. Dan says:

      They continue working on 2G.

  10. Simon Taylor says:

    They should switch it off NOW in areas that have 4G and 5G.

  11. Essa says:

    I remember I was on a Train on my way to Stockholm City and this guy worked for “Three” the service provider and they ware just about to kick off 3g. And he showed me the phone and even demoed a video call on the train! It was very cool.

    We have come a long way, both good and bad.

  12. Richard Walton says:

    When are the networks going to improve the quality and coverage of voice calls. I still get drop out in Leeds when travelling

  13. Dan says:

    Vodafone better get their act together with OneNet voice services being properly supported over LTE now, although they will deliver voice over 4G some supplementary options don’t work. Multiple user conference calls, native call transfers are not supported and only work over 2G & 3G with handsets currently relying on being ‘knocked down’ when a voice call is received.

  14. alan says:

    I only wish I could get 3g inside my home
    I have to contend with 2G with the Signal icon on my mobile displaying “E”

  15. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps a less well know consiquence is that many car in-built devices are 3G only. They don’t support 2G and it’s only in the last few years that 4G support has been added to new models. This will mean they can no longer receive updates, traffic information etc.

    I guess there could be other similar IoT devices that are also 3G only.

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