» ISP News » 
Sponsored Links

Mobile Operator EE UK Finalises 3G Switch Off Plan and Timeline

Monday, Sep 18th, 2023 (9:59 am) - Score 5,248
ee rural mast

Mobile network operator EE (BT) has published a progress update on their national plan and timeline for switching off the old 3G data (mobile broadband) service, which was successfully trialled in the Cheshire (England) town of Warrington (here) during the summer.

The UK government and all mobile providers 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 networks. The switch-off will also reduce the operators’ costs and power consumption.

NOTE: 3G on EE’s network accounts for less than 0.6% of all downloaded UK data and just 7% of all voice traffic – a 73% decrease since January 2020. Despite this, 3G still represents around 35% of their mobile network’s total power consumption.

As stated before, 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, although O2 (VMO2) won’t begin this phase until 2025.


In terms of EE’s own plan, the operator has revealed that their recent switch-off trial in Warrington resulted in “no customer complaints about network coverage or performance” and “no capacity issues on either our 2G or 4G networks, despite a natural rise in traffic as more people relied on them every day.” As a result, they’ve been able to firm up their final switch-off plan.

The operator had previously informed us that they would begin moving customers off 3G during 2023, rather than switching the network off, but they aimed to switch it off in “early” 2024. EE has now confirmed that its nationwide 3G switch off phase will start from January 2024, with the plan being to complete the switch off across the UK by March 2024.

EE will also be keeping all customers registered as “vulnerable” connected by offering them a free 4G-ready mobile phone (or a discount on a monthly plan if they prefer).

Greg McCall, BT’s Chief Networks Officer, said:

While 3G delivered everything we expected it to twenty years ago, it has now been made redundant by the widespread rollout of newer mobile technologies. Retiring 3G means we can reuse the spectrum to strengthen our 4G and 5G experiences (which the majority of customers use every day) and make sure more communities have access to a fast, reliable and sustainable mobile network.

When our 3G network switches off early next year it will be a landmark moment. And while its retirement is more of a network evolution than a revolution, it sets the scene for many exciting developments to come in the years ahead.

To discover more about the 3G switch off, visit www.ee.co.uk/3g-switch-off .

Switching off 3G will enable the related spectrum frequency to be re-farmed for use by faster 4G and 5G networks, although this change won’t happen instantly, partly because some sites may require additional work. EE informed ISPreview that they will focus early reuse of it in areas of the greatest need (e.g. sites more congested, or areas at risk of congestion). But in most cases, EE expects that existing 4G services will be enough to support impacted customers.


Share with Twitter
Share with Linkedin
Share with Facebook
Share with Reddit
Share with Pinterest
Tags: , , , ,
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 .
Search ISP News
Search ISP Listings
Search ISP Reviews
12 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Ivor says:

    “Despite this, 3G still represents around 35% of their mobile network’s total power consumption.”

    I assume this is because EE’s 3G is delivered through a RAN share with 3 via MBNL, it’s a physically separate device and a couple of generations out of date (as in equipment, not as in “G”). It isn’t just the matter of a card or SDR upgrade as 2G/4G/5G are to the equipment that EE owns and manages.

    1. Avatar photo Matt says:

      3G was supposed to be the first push of “We don’t need fixed lines anymore, just grab a 3G modem and enjoy cheap superfast mobile broadband” type setup. We’ve since seen the same for every new generation of mobile network, and generally (especially in the UK) that’s not really a good comparison vs a reasonably decent fixed line connection.

      3G was horrifically power inefficient to achieve the speeds it did. Because of how the networks rolled it out, on top of the amount of density of users meant it never really did perform amazingly well. Also it’s from a time in enterprise equipment where efficiency wasn’t really a thought unless you were at huge scale. Deployment from 2003 onwards – I’d just be starting secondary school and playing with enterprise kit (much to my parents, the bill payers chagrin 🙂 )

      An examples of the lack of efficiency -> Enterprise servers still receiving support from that year (e.g. HP DL380 Gen2 – running **Pentium III** Processors – it’s hard to find actually what was available new at this point in time though – to try and give some perspective.) After this with the Pentium 4s (e.g. Prescott) where performance was the most important thing for Intel, regardless of power consumption or heat generation. It’s easy to forget how “bad” equipment was just 20 years ago. Obviously some areas would have supporting equipment and not just routing equipment.

      5G also was a big leap in power efficiency of 4G – however due to the network requirements you generally needs more masts / more equipment to serve the same area (5G having better speed but less coverage)

    2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      well remember that not all the 3G equipment is actually 20 years old. MBNL would have refreshed it as part of the rollout of (what was then) T-Mobile and 3’s shared network. Late 2000s?

      EE mentioned that their original 4G rollout would also upgrade the 2G network, as the same base station equipment could do both.

      I would expect the same to be true again with 5G, and in the age of SDR it becomes even easier to provide flexibility.

    3. Avatar photo Chris says:

      Yeah, when a mast was upgraded to 4G, the 3G (and 2G) kit would also have been refreshed. Especially since the orange and t-mobile networks were merged, spectrum was refarmed, etc.
      Whilst it’s not the same boxes running as there was 20 years ago, 4G & 5G is still much more spectrally efficient so it’s able to deliver more data to more users using less power.
      That’s at the network edge, at the core they probably have old and new kit too. In any case, keeping a network equipment that virtually no one is using running is incredibly energy inefficient.

  2. Avatar photo Chris says:

    I feel like in EE’s (and Three’s) case the switch-off will be quite low impact. EE only ever used a relatively high (2100mhz) frequency at scale in their network, whereas 4G uses that as well as the lower 1800 and 800mhz frequencies. On paper, it means EE’s 4G has better coverage than their 3G ever had, with very few exceptions. They also adopted VoLTE relatively early.

    1. Avatar photo Ben says:

      > They also adopted VoLTE relatively early.

      You might want to tell that to their MVNO customers who still can’t access VoLTE 🙂

    2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      I guess it depends on how “V” their MVNO is. Lycamobile presumably run more of their core network hence the seamless switch but lack of features, whereas the likes of 1pmobile seem to use the EE core and get all of the EE mod cons. New entrants like Spusu have it too.

      Which EE MVNOs don’t have VoLTE, except for Plusnet Mobile which is hardly long for this world anyway

    3. Avatar photo Manu says:

      Sorry Chris, this more for a reply to Ivor.

      I know Now Mobile uses EE signal and still doesn’t have Wifi calling or VoLTE

  3. Avatar photo Marc says:

    Probably bit a of an edge case / niche scenario, but I’ve found 3G pretty useful when I’m at football stadiums and the 4G / 5G networks are overloaded with traffic – forcing my phone down to 3G results in data actually being usable (if slow) compared to the non usable 4G and 5G networks. Will be a bit disappointed to lose that!

    1. Avatar photo Declan M says:

      Am the same but I can’t force my IPhone in to 3G, in my house I get a really strong 3G signal yes not the fastest but a much stronger signal than 4G be sad to see it go as my iPhone will probably jump down to Edge if the 3G band isn’t converted to 4G

  4. Avatar photo Spotify95 says:

    Well, this was inevitable. Though given that 3G is the only thing that works properly where I live, with 3G giving better coverage than 2G and 4G1800, this means there’s only a choice of 3 mobile networks now.

    Welcome to the worst network for Higham Ferrers and Rushden, and soon, it’ll be even worse. This is EE.

  5. Avatar photo Martin says:

    When 4G/LTE was still new’ish I remember being in central London and having an abysmal experience with nothing loading on 4G at all. Switching to 3G would, on the other hand, load everything extremely quickly.

    We’ve obviously come a long way since then but I still genuinely experience this sometimes. 5G and 4G having some kind of meltdown (unknown if at the cell level or just my device), then I switch to 3G and everything works as normal.

    Sad to see it go.

Comments are closed

Cheap BIG ISPs for 100Mbps+
Community Fibre UK ISP Logo
Gift: None
NOW £24.00
Gift: None
Virgin Media UK ISP Logo
Virgin Media £26.00
Gift: None
Vodafone UK ISP Logo
Vodafone £26.50 - 27.00
Gift: None
Zen Internet UK ISP Logo
Zen Internet £28.00 - 35.00
Gift: None
Large Availability | View All
Cheapest ISPs for 100Mbps+
Gigaclear UK ISP Logo
Gigaclear £17.00
Gift: None
BeFibre UK ISP Logo
BeFibre £19.00
Gift: None
Community Fibre UK ISP Logo
Gift: None
YouFibre UK ISP Logo
YouFibre £22.99
Gift: None
Hey! Broadband UK ISP Logo
Gift: None
Large Availability | View All
The Top 15 Category Tags
  1. FTTP (5720)
  2. BT (3569)
  3. Politics (2602)
  4. Openreach (2342)
  5. Business (2322)
  6. Building Digital UK (2277)
  7. FTTC (2061)
  8. Mobile Broadband (2039)
  9. Statistics (1830)
  10. 4G (1724)
  11. Virgin Media (1674)
  12. Ofcom Regulation (1494)
  13. Fibre Optic (1426)
  14. Wireless Internet (1417)
  15. FTTH (1383)

Copyright © 1999 to Present - ISPreview.co.uk - All Rights Reserved - Terms , Privacy and Cookie Policy , Links , Website Rules , Contact