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Vodafone UK to Start Switching Off 3G in Devon and Hampshire

Monday, Jan 30th, 2023 (12:01 am) - Score 4,680
vodafone mast and engineer

The time has come. Vodafone will, in just a few days’ time, become one of the first UK mobile networks to start the process of switching off their old 3G mobile (mobile broadband) platform, with people in the Devon city of Plymouth and the Hampshire town of Basingstoke being among the first to switch.

We don’t currently have the exact date in February 2023 for the switch-off process itself to begin, although Vodafone has already begun contacting customers identified as using the 3G network in Plymouth and Basingstoke to let them know of their intentions to switch-off the service. The goal, as originally announced a year ago (here), is to complete the switch-off across the UK by December 2023.

NOTE: Vodafone’s 3G service has been live for 18 years, but back in January 2022 it accounted for under 4% of the data used on their network (down from over 30% in 2016).

On the technical front, the change will enable some 10MHz of spectrum in the 900MHz band to be re-purposed for use by modern 4G and 5G mobile services, which could result in faster mobile broadband speeds and better network coverage of those platforms. Operators will also see better energy efficiency and lower maintenance costs once 3G is removed. Mobile operators will typically inform those impacted by both text and email.

However, the move will inevitably cause data connectivity problems for anybody who still relies on a 3G-only device (rare), which is why the operator has been running a campaign alongside charities and consumer groups to “reach its most vulnerable customers and ensure everyone stays connected.” But most of those with a 3G handset (i.e. one that can’t do 4G or 5G) will find that it may continue to function, albeit only via basic 2G services (i.e. voice and very slow data). Anything that doesn’t fallback to 2G will, however, cease to function.

By comparison, the 2G service will be sticking around for a lot longer, probably until 2033 for some operators (here), because a fair few services, such as some home Smart Meters, are still reliant upon it and some areas covered by 2G mobile still can’t access 4G or 5G (i.e. 2G is a useful fallback for predominantly voice-only style communications in some challenging rural areas).

In terms of the other operators..

The Phase Out Plan for 3G Mobile

Three UK said they’ll be phasing out our 3G network service gradually over the next 2 years and switching it off by the end of 2024.

EE (BT) will this year begin moving customers off 3G rather than switching the network off, but they aim to switch it off in early 2024.

O2 (Virgin Media) informed us that they’ve yet to announce a public sunsetting timeframe, but are supportive of the Government plans to switch off both 2G and 3G by 2033.

We should point out that these changes will also impact any dependent Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) for the various primary providers (identical migration timescale to the primary operator), so you won’t be able to escape it by switching to one of them on the same physical network.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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18 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Gregowski says:

    They would have to swap round some spectrum in 900MHz with o2 in order to add this extra 5MHz to a continuous 15MHz block.

    I really want to see how they will use this extra spectrum once 3G is off.

    1. Avatar photo Jonathan says:

      I hope that is the long term plan – both o2 and vodafone, each with a 15MHz paired 4G service on GSM900 band. And the remaining 4.8MHz on this band empty or for 2G on one or both operators.

      From a customer experience point of view, it would be better if any 4G channel in the UK is 10MHz or higher…

  2. Avatar photo Alec says:

    amazing, because the 4G is so flakey here and the 3G works as a backup. it’s more reliable and actually faster than the 4G.. another downgrade on the way :/

    1. Avatar photo AD says:

      I don’t think you quite understand how mobile frequencies work. Vodafone isn’t going to just shut down 3G without reframing the frequencies it was using to give you 3G. The coverage will actually improve as Vodafone will be using the frequency it uses for 3G to power 4g, so 4g will be less “flaky” in your area

  3. Avatar photo Mark says:

    “2G is a useful fallback for predominantly voice-only style communications in some challenging rural areas.” I’m afraid your find momentum growing for Anti mast. I live in a Small Cotswolds town were the vocal minority have prevented coverage for nearly two decades.2G from an TV relay which can’t be upgraded. Looking forward to 2033 when they complain they’ve lost 2G. I suspect they’ll suggest WiFi calling, ridiculousin 21st century

    1. Avatar photo Polish Economic Migrant says:

      They will all be probably dead by that time, however there might be a new wave of Anti 6G/vax flat earth believers by that time too. Stay tuned 😉

  4. Avatar photo David Wheatley says:

    In most areas, it’ll free up 5 MHz spectrum as they have already been actively refarming their 3G from their 12.4 MHz block to their lower 5 MHz block.

    We’d still need a swap between Vodafone and O2 approved by Ofcom to make this majorly beneficial in terms of spectrum clearing.

    1. Avatar photo Chris says:

      I think Mark is technically correct in saying 10mhz, as the 3G switch-off will free up the last block of 5mhz paired in the 900mhz band for Vodafone. So 5 up, 5 down for 10mhz total.

      But I definitely think convention would usually to say “5mhz paired” so there’s no ambiguity

  5. Avatar photo Anuraj says:

    Good decision by Vodafone. Not worth wasting spectrum for 3g. Lots of handsets now have 4g.

    Vodafone already have 5 MHZ and 12.4 MHZ.

    5 MHZ is plenty enough for 2g and 12.4 MHZ will give good coverage and speed for 4g.

    Any expert opinions?

    Vodafone also have *800 MHZ and 1500MHZ ( SDL ).

    1. Avatar photo 5G_Infinity says:

      Yes, comments all pretty spot on with one exception. Older BMW and other car manufacturer owners will see their dashboard go dark as the mobile connection is 3G and can’t be upgraded.

      This includes traffic info and updates on your satnav.

  6. Avatar photo Darc says:

    I wonder how many smartmeters will stop working since they use the 2/3g networks.

    1. Avatar photo James says:

      Well if you read the article…

  7. Avatar photo Sam Machin says:

    Yet Vodafone are one of the few (real) operators that will still sell a plan without access to 5G. So they’re taking away coverage from customers with 3G but not giving them access to the new stuff they’re building.
    Will be interesting to see if the 4G coverage actually improves as a result of the new spectrum.

  8. Avatar photo yeehaa says:

    It’s amazing that GSM (2G), a technology that was developed in the 1980s may still be with us until 2033 and will outlast 3G in this country.

    I can see some rational for retaining GSM for voice redundancy, especially for emergency calls.

  9. Avatar photo Ben Watkins says:

    Whenever I go to a populated place like a city or popular event Vodafone data is useless. Strong signal but less than 1mbps download speed. Falling back to 3G (by changing the network settings on my device) is the only way to get data to be usable. I have to do this at least once or twice a week at the moment. I presume it’s because Vodafone doesn’t have the bandwidth for the number of customers it sold contacts to. If the 3G fallback option is taken away the service will be unusable half the time.

    1. Avatar photo db says:

      that isn’t how this works. no operator has enough capacity in 1 cell to service all its customers.

      the 3G switch off will create more 4G capacity so this will improve the issue you are facing

  10. Avatar photo Gareth says:

    I am assuming that the day 3G is turned off 4G will get turned on in place or is it the case 3g goes off then a change of tech in the street cabinet will need yo be done. In days or week??

  11. Avatar photo MRLeeds says:

    EE wrote to me in November to tell me I’d be presented with options to move off my T Mobile 3G contracts within the next few weeks but then no contact since. I’ll be interested to see how they do it as I’m on an exceptionally good deal at the moment hence keeping them for 10+ years.

Comments are closed

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