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Vodafone to Start Switching Off Rest of UK 3G Network from June 2023

Tuesday, May 9th, 2023 (12:01 pm) - Score 6,104
Signal tower service concept

At the start of this year Vodafone became the first UK mobile operator to begin the process of switching off their old 3G mobile (mobile broadband) network, which started with a pilot in the Devon city of Plymouth and the Hampshire town of Basingstoke. The operator now plans to start switching off the remainder of its 3G from June 2023.

The government and all major mobile operators have already agreed to phase-out existing 2G and 3G signals by 2033 (here), which will free up radio spectrum bands so that they can be used to further improve the network coverage and mobile broadband speeds of more modern 4G and 5G based mobile networks. The switch-off will also reduce the operators’ costs and power consumption.

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

However, 3G services will be the first to go because older 2G signals remain useful as a low-power fallback (they’ll be sticking around for a lot longer) and are still necessary for some rural areas, as well as for particular applications (e.g. many Smart Meters and other Internet of Things (IoT) / M2M services are dependent upon 2G). But most operators expect to have completely phased out 3G by the end of 2024.

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In the case of Vodafone, the operator has today stated that their national shutdown will happen in phases throughout the remainder of 2023, starting in June with Hull, Oxford and Greater London, before progressing across the South. The remainder of the UK will follow later in the year.

On the technical front, the change will enable some 10MHz of spectrum in their 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 from those platforms.

Nevertheless, the move will inevitably cause some 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 fall back to 2G will, however, cease to function.

Vodafone’s UK Network Director, Andrea Dona, said:

“Our focus remains to continue to build the UK’s most reliable mobile network and to continue to do this, we need to ensure our technologies are fit for purpose. 3G use has already dropped significantly as most of Vodafone’s customers now use the 4G network.

We’re also strengthening and improving our 4G and 5G coverage and this can only mean good news for our customers as well as the wider UK economy. At the same time, we’ve been working hard to make sure our customers are fully aware and have the information and tools they need to support themselves, as well as friends and family through the programme.

The Digital Skills Helpline is a great asset, bringing customers the skills they may need to make the most of their device. On this solid bedrock, now is the time to say goodbye to 3G and focus on the current benefits and future possibilities of our 4G and 5G networks.”

Take note that the changes will impact any dependent Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO), so you won’t be able to escape it by switching to an MVNO on the same physical network. As for the other operators, their plans for 3G are as follows.

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The Phase Out Plans 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.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
49 Responses
  1. Avatar photo JP says:

    O2 will completely stall if it turns off 3G…. Though that’s my opinion.

    1. Avatar photo Obi says:

      They’ve been asleep at the wheel with their 5G rollout, but jokes aside, perhaps that’s why they’ve been quiet on switching off 3G

    2. Avatar photo JP says:

      The old ‘lipstick on a pig’ analogy comes to mind.

    3. Avatar photo Harry Kenyon says:

      So why do they keep suggesting we use Lebara
      At LL538DA

    4. Avatar photo Anonymous says:

      Certain O2 MVNOs are still selling 3G phones to this day That’s certainly not gonna help with the switch off.

  2. Avatar photo JP says:

    I’m already forcing my devices to LTE/NR Only modes…. with Vodafone ive noticed no issues however O2 ceases to make/receive calls and struggles to maintain connection on the move.

    EE and Three are also fine and can function in this mode too.

    1. Avatar photo 4chAnon says:

      Any way to force this on an iPhone?

    2. Avatar photo JP says:

      Don’t know but I doubt it.

  3. Avatar photo Obi says:

    Whilst this is aggressive, 4/5G need the capacity boost, though hope the transition is smooth for those who still use 3G.

    Someone needs to wake up Slo2, incredible that they share masts with Vodafone, yet offer inferior service.

  4. Avatar photo Phil says:

    Will vodafone improve 4G+ speed if turn off 3G?

  5. Avatar photo Chris Counter says:

    I only get 2/3G at home on Vodafone, will I only be left with a 2G signal, I’m in Surrey, not exactly in the sticks! I get full signal 5G with Three!

    Reason I’m with Vodafone (Voxi) is because I get better signal when travelling around then with Three, almost every town or city I visit the 4G doesn’t work on Three! Central London by far the worst!

    1. Avatar photo Adam says:

      Hopefully you will benefit from the merger, but three have a network sharing access agreement at present with EE

    2. Avatar photo Jon says:

      Sorry but it really has to be your device or something with your SIM. Are you directly on Three or with an MVNO? I’ve never had issues in Central London with Three, and they recently scored higher than Vodafone on a test against time able to connect while on a train to Edinburgh from London

      I recently had a friend on iD Mobile move to Vodafone and upgrade to a Pixel 6a from a Samsung A7, was always complaining about how sh*t his sim card was, but in our town where the only Vodafone masts are just shared, congested O2 masts he found a worse experience, moved back to iD and now reckons it’s more reliable than his FTTC connection. I guess the A7 couldn’t support some of Three’s main bands in the town or something

    3. Avatar photo Michael V says:

      If you look at Plymouth and Basingstoke as examples they upgraded the 4G network & added 4G where needed before the shutdown of 3G HSPA

    4. Avatar photo Chris says:

      @John,

      I’ve been on three or one of its mvno since ~2007 and can confirm that 3 is indeed terrible in central London since at least 2017.

      It used to be really good but now is useless, even with full reception data goes at a snails pace, no issue with voice but I’ve needed data more than voice. Dropping from 4G to 3G helps. I don’t have 5G but the issue started long before 5G was available

    5. Avatar photo Anonymous says:

      Three doesn’t have enough 5G coverage within outer London. It’s by far the WORST 5G rollout out of all networks.

      The city I live in has zero 5G. The city I work at also has zero 5G. They’re not small cities either. One has the Elizabeth line, the other has a Tube station.

      Compare that with O2 who have 5G deployments EVERYWHERE. Even though they’re the worst network, they have the best 5G coverage across my side of London.

      Vodafone is second with selective, targeted 5G in peak spots. EE comes third with sporadic 5G coverage.

      And even if you did have Three’s 5G with their “poles of wonder”, you’d only get ~60Mbps because of how many people are connected at once. For comparison, even EE’s 4G is faster…

    6. Avatar photo Daniel says:

      I have exactly the same problem cris and I live in Surrey too. However, I am also in Greater London so I’m looking forward to having no signal!

  6. Avatar photo Phil says:

    Vodafone never bothering to bring 5G in all over Shropshire and Telford.
    https://i.ibb.co/1bDrqjd/00.jpg

    1. Avatar photo Pepstar says:

      But they have increased their capacity on 4G masts around Telford where required, I’ve noticed this in the Wellington Area.

      TBH 5G as a technology to me is there to increase capacity, I am on EE now, but when I was on Vodafone I found their service to be generally fine with speeds of around 20mbps+ in most of the town.

      So you have to ask what would the average user of a mobile phone get when 5G comes to Telford on Vodafone? Also consider that Voda have no B28 on 5G/4G so their B20 layer is their coverage layer and works fine for most areas of Telford I’ve been in

    2. Avatar photo Phil says:

      Vodafone will upgraded 5G sooner or later when merger with Three should be lots better coverage all over Telford and Shropshire.

      Telford Town Centre and Town Park already enabled Three 5G but vodafone, ee and o2 not bothered.

    3. Avatar photo DBM says:

      No voda 5G in Bedford either. Every other network has it, except Voda.

    4. Avatar photo Nick says:

      Don’t worry you’re not missing much, you’ll find 4G faster most of the time. Covid and other things have caused delays to 5G roll out worldwide.

      Even in the areas covered by 5G they are patchy at best even in places like Central London.

  7. Avatar photo MRLeeds says:

    EE are moving my old T-Mobile 3G contract over to their 4G next month after hinting at it since mid last year, apparently I’ll get a new sim sometime in June.

    1. Avatar photo Nick says:

      Did you request that? Or are you being pushed? Reason I ask is I once heard T-Mobile used to pay people/reward them to give up certain legacy tariffs because they were loss making, like the original Mercury One2one plans or this BS??

  8. Avatar photo Localzuk says:

    So where does this leave us rural customers who only get H+ speeds at best? Will we end up plummeting to 2g (not that it doesn’t do that already on my trip to work… live that E level connectivity)?

    1. Avatar photo Adnaan says:

      Did you read:

      “the change will enable some 10MHz of spectrum in their 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 from those platforms”

      The remaining spectrum will be repurposed for 4g, so common sense would dictate that you should receive 4g in place of h+

    2. Avatar photo Michael V says:

      Vodafone won’t leave those places with just 2G, they will be adding 4G to those sites.

    3. Avatar photo Sonic says:

      Not rural, but I get 1 bar of 4G upstairs and downstairs it’s only 3G. Unless they seriously improve 4G where I live, I will end up with nothing after the switch off. 5G is just a pipe dream, will probably never arrive here.

    4. Avatar photo JP says:

      Just because your device is locking to 3G with weak signal doesn’t mean it won’t lock to 4G with weak signal.

      My devices ‘used’ too drop down to 3G for no particular reason is some areas of the house but with 3G turned off on my Android devices I just connect to 4G and can’t say there is anyu issues.

      iPhone’s have a tendancy to lock on too 3G is poor signal conditions for now good reason.

    5. Avatar photo Localzuk says:

      Some incredibly rude people on this site.

      Yes, I read the article. But I also know that what a company says vs what actually happens are 2 very different things. This area apparently has 4g already. Except, it simply doesn’t. Their coverage map is an estimate. A bad one.

  9. Avatar photo Anon says:

    Well the elephant in the room question that should be asked and ISPreview might be able to ask Vodafone
    this this which is how long AFTER Vodafone turn off 3G in any given area will they than repurpose the
    spectrum to be used by 4G and 5G services?

    Will it be immediately available for 4G/5G use vastly improving existing coverage or will there be a time delay between the two events?

    Vodafone and other operators really need to explain this as much as they’re explaining about why they are getting rid of 3G.

    1. Avatar photo Michael V says:

      If you look at Plymouth and Basingstoke as examples they upgraded the 4G network & added 4G where needed before the shutdown of 3G.

  10. Avatar photo Mark says:

    As a customer on a Vodafone MVNO in Plymouth I can honestly say I have not noticed any detrimental effect on the service since they switched off 3g in the city. In fact my son now gets 5g on his phone more than before the switch off. If merger with 3 goes through they should have best 5g of all operators in city better than EE even and certainly better than 02 who are very poor here, mind you 02 4g is pretty useless now here too!

    1. Avatar photo Nick says:

      Vodafone already have the resources and the ability to offer better 5G, I’m sure they throttle a lot of people, there’s a lot of tariffs with speed caps, in particular 100mb and I think to myself if you’re charging higher prices for tariffs without speed caps, it’s hardly 5G at no extra cost. 4G is able to provide those speeds anyway.

      If the Vodafone and Three merger go ahead, they maybe required to sell some Spectrum to the network holding the smallest amount of spectrum just like how BT was told to sell some to Three.

      I don’t see how going from 4 networks to 3 is going to be good for customers.

      Vodafone and Three were the only ones who objected against BT acquiring EE on the basis of BT having an unfair advantage with Openreach which is ridiculous when Vodafone already own a large fixed network themselves.

  11. Avatar photo Thanks BMW says:

    I think there are a few more 3G devices about then we imagine, my car infotainment circa 2018 only has a 3G modem, let’s hope it can use O2, at least for couple of years!

    1. Avatar photo JP says:

      As you’ve already said, BMW was stupid to do that considering 4G came to the market in 2012 for the UK and earlier elsewhere.

  12. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

    Where will this leave customers who don’t (or can’t) use network operator supplied handsets with VoLTE firmware installed? What currently happens is the handset drops to 3G for voice calls, then returns to 4G/5G after the call ends. Will handsets drop to 2G instead?

    1. Avatar photo Mark says:

      In Plymouth where 3g has switched off already on Vodafone it drops to 2g to carry call then reverts to 4g afterwards.

    2. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

      Great, thanks for confirming.

    3. Avatar photo Martin says:

      This setup sounds pretty poor TBH. I’ve not had a network supplied handset since days of the Nokia N91. I’ve not had any issues on three with VoLTE on my current phone (a Xiaomi)

    4. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

      I’ve had very little success using VoLTE on O2 with 3rd party supplied handsets.

    5. Avatar photo JP says:

      Vodafone’s VoLTE works on 3rd party phones though! (even with Lebara)

  13. Avatar photo Yatta! says:

    Good, UMTS is redundant, GSM is sufficient for legacy devices and basic IoT connectivity.

  14. Avatar photo Serf says:

    Vodafone was selling 3G mobile phones with 3G access in 2003 and 4G mobile phones were available from Vodafone in 2008 and probably earlier.

  15. Avatar photo TheStateOfAffairs says:

    Is it true that iphones since the last couple of years no longer have 3G capabilities built in them? I feel sorry for Three.

    1. Avatar photo Nick says:

      No it’s not true and Three offer a better 5G network than O2 and Vodafone. Three’s 5G is in more places, its actually faster than 4G most of the time and the signal is stronger whereas with O2 and Vodafone, O2 in particular its patchy at best in all the major cities and towns and even when you do get it, it’s not really any use. In fact when I was on O2, it had to drop down to 3G which they advised which is ridiculous of a mobile phone company to advise in 2022.

      Three do not have 2G and in the UK 2G is rather useful especially for lots of devices and in rural places

  16. Avatar photo Nick says:

    Vodafone 3G is still live and kicking across London. The thing I have noticed since being aware of the 3G shut down is I’ve paid close attention and in many places across London and the South East I’ve noticed some black spots dropping down to 3G and highlights that it may not be ready to switch it off.

    Perhaps it’s still switched on because of these issues or there’s been some objections to it, not from mobile phone users but some tech that is taking longer than expected to be replaced with alternatives, that said may have delayed it. But all over Greater London, Vodafone 3G is still strong and reliable possibly because nobody is using it.

    1. Avatar photo Reply says:

      Useful thank you.

  17. Avatar photo Cancunia says:

    Has anyone seen a timetable of when & where 3G will be switched off?

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