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Two Thirds of Councils Still Use Services Reliant on 2G and 3G Mobile

Saturday, Dec 16th, 2023 (8:18 am) - Score 4,480
concept of wireless radio Internet. 5G mobile technologies.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils across England and Wales, has warned that while the majority of councils are aware of the looming mobile network closures, almost two-thirds of them are still using devices and systems reliant on 2G and 3G connectivity to at least a small extent.

The UK government and all major mobile operators have so far agreed to phase-out existing 2G and 3G signals by 2033 (here), which should 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.

However, contrary to what you might think, 3G services will be the first to go because older 2G signals are still necessary for a fair few connectivity solutions (e.g. voice calls in remote rural areas, as a low-power fallback and many Smart Meters / IoT / M2M services depend upon it). As a result, it makes more sense to switch-off 3G first, since the data centric technology has fewer dependencies.

Most of the major mobile network operators currently expect to have completely phased out 3G by the end of 2024, although O2 (VMO2) will take longer as some of the services they supply still require 3G connectivity (Smart Meters etc.).

3G Phase Out Plans by Operator

Vodafone UK has already started to phase out 3G and aims to complete by the end of December 2023.

Three UK are phasing out their 3G network service gradually and switching it off by the end of 2024.

EE (BT) has begun moving customers off 3G rather than switching the network off, but they aim to switch it off by March 2024.

O2 (VMO2) will begin the switch-off process in 2025 and complete it by that same year.

Given this context, the LGA recently conducted a new survey to assess the impact of the switch-off on local councils, which also make some use of 2G and 3G connected services. A total of 47 responses were received, which covered the views of 53 councils (some respondents provided the same response for multiple councils).

The survey found that most (except 7%) of respondents were aware of the switch-off, but almost two-thirds of councils who responded say they are still using devices and systems reliant on 2G and 3G networks to at least a small extent.

Key Findings

➤ Awareness: Around two-fifths (38 per cent) of respondents said they were fully aware of the upcoming switch off of the UK’s 2G and 3G mobile networks.

➤ Awareness: A quarter (27 per cent) of respondents said they were partially aware of the upcoming switch off of the UK’s 2G and 3G mobile networks whilst 7% of respondents said they were not aware at all.

➤ Senior/Executive Management Team: Half of the respondents (48 per cent) said their Senior/Executive Management Teams were partially aware of the upcoming switch off of the UK’s 2G and 3G mobile networks whilst 14 per cent were not at all aware.

➤ Elected Members: Almost half of the respondents (45 per cent) said their Elected Members were partially aware of the upcoming switch off of the UK’s 2G and 3G mobile networks whilst two-fifths (39 per cent) said they were not at all aware.

➤ Operational Staff: Two-fifths of respondents (42 per cent) said their Operational Staff were partially aware whilst a further thirteen per cent said they were not at all aware.

➤ Reliance: Almost two-thirds of respondents (63 per cent) said their authority was still using devices and systems that were reliant on 2G and 3G networks to at least a small extent.

➤ Confidence: Around a third of respondents (32 per cent) said they feel very confident about their authority’s ability to manage the switch off of 2G and 3G networks with minimal impact on its operations and services. Two-fifths of respondents (38 per cent) said they were fairly confident whilst a fifth (18 per cent) said they were not very confident.

➤ Costs: Under a fifth of respondents (17 per cent) said their council had incurred costs already in switching from 2G and 3G in the last six months whilst three fifths (60 per cent) said they had not yet incurred costs.

➤ Costs: Around a quarter of respondents (23 per cent) said they were confident that no additional costs would be incurred by the transition from 2G and 3G networks. A tenth of respondents (nine per cent) said they believed that there would be costs incurred by the switch off but that they had accurately estimated those costs and secured funding to cover all of them.

➤ Costs: A further nine per cent of respondents said they believed there would be costs incurred by the switch off and that they have accurately estimated them, but have not yet secured funding to cover them. Around a third (29 per cent) said they believed there will be costs incurred by the switch off, but they have not yet accurately estimated how much they are likely to be. A quarter of respondents (23 per cent) said they didn’t yet know if there would be costs incurred by the switch off.

➤ Support: A fifth of respondents (19 per cent) said they would value support from the LGA in managing the 2G and 3G switch-off to a great extent. Around a third of respondents (31 per cent) said to a moderate extent whilst a further 19 per cent said to a small extent. A quarter of respondents (25 per cent) said not at all.

➤ Support: Almost three-quarters of respondents (72 per cent) said they would value online resources from the LGA. Around two-fifths of respondents (41 per cent) said they would like events and webinars with a further 41 per cent choosing policy and campaigning.

The LGA said greater guidance and awareness-raising of the switch off is needed from government, and the wider telecoms industry, to make sure any disruption to devices and services are kept to a minimum and to better help them prepare for the transition. But there’s no mention of seeking additional support from the companies that built their 2G and 3G dependent systems in the first place, which should be helping with upgrades.

Concerns were also raised over the “lack of adequate 4G and 5G coverage, particularly in rural areas“. But they do rather overlook the related difficulties that mobile operators have often faced in getting planning permission passed by some councils for new masts, which could help to solve precisely this problem.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, LGA Digital Connectivity Spokesman, said:

“Mobile data is vital for running certain services which people use and rely on every day, whether it be for help in paying for parking or providing a vital helpline in social housing.

Councils want to do all they can to minimise the impact of the 2G and 3G network switch off, but cannot do it alone. We need government and telecoms leaders to work together to raise awareness of the transition and what it means for those at the sharp end, including on how best to manage the move to the latest technology.

Older, legacy infrastructure ranging from parking meters and payment machines, to emergency auto diallers and sensors in social housing, may need upgrading or replacing to work on new, faster 4G and 5G networks. Time is running out if we are to avoid the fallout from the big switch off.”

The LGA also echoed recent calls for Ofcom to improve the quality of their mobile coverage reporting data, which could in turn help to improve understanding and awareness of overall mobile coverage across the country. But this is not an easy thing to get right, due to the highly variable nature of mobile signals and the environment. In addition, they want to see more “Digital Champions” being appointed at “every local area” in order to improve coordination with mobile operators.

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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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19 Responses
  1. Avatar photo RightSaidFred says:

    It doesn’t surprise me that councils are unprepared and complaining. I recall one news story earlier this year that highlights how dysfunctional and shortsighted that they can be.

    There was an article about a council that refused planning permission for a road as it would mean that new housing would also need to built, at a time where there’s a clear housing shortage within the council area as well as nationally.

    How about some joined up thinking? Give planning permission for the road, and build some bloody houses.

    1. Avatar photo Too Sexy For A Shirt says:

      Should point out that poorly executed housing estates can be just as bad as no housing at all.

      I’m not saying there aren’t issues with housing, but we need to also make sure to avoid situations such as poor public transport, isolation, lack of facilities, etc. Last thing we need are ghost estates.

      Obviously in the case you provide I dont know the details and whether there were differing factors involved, NIMBYism or whatever.

      Where I live the council actually did push through some new houses, even though where they wanted them various people were saying was a ‘stupid’ location due to various issues and even their justification was called out due to issues by someone it was supposedly aimed at.

    2. Avatar photo Jim says:

      Why on earth would you want to build more houses when you’re in your 50’s with a mortgage-free home of your own?

      They’ll just spoil your lovely view!

  2. Avatar photo James hudson says:

    Only two thirds. Hoe about all of the public sector. NHS is the worst.
    I was asked a few weeks ago to send a fax referral as the department wasn’t set up to except emails. An electronic scan of a paper referral sent by email was not set up.
    I said I’m not doing that and told them to get out of the stone ages. End result patient didn’t get their referral.

    1. Avatar photo NE555 says:

      Really, you put your techno-pride ahead of the well being of your patients?

      That sounds like a bigger problem in the NHS.

    2. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      The government had stipulated that fax machines should no longer be used in the NHS after April 2020. Clearly that has not happened.

    3. Avatar photo Common Sense says:

      How is it the responsibility of the local department staff to ensure that a replacement for the fax service is setup ? They have zero authority to do that and have to use what works. A big noise was made by the usual idiots in the media about the NHS still using fax machines but what is the replacement system ? I’ve not seen any details anywhere about what alternative is setup NOW for them to use. I have relatives in NHS nursing positions who would love to improve the technology and allow more time for patient care but have to use what the NHS upper management and NHS Hospital Administrators decree. Something that can be improved is the IT and operational procedures at Doctors surgeries and Pharmacies. THey appear to manage their own “solutions” and some of them are useless at it.

    4. Avatar photo Sam P says:

      It’s amazing how quickly people come to attack you if you say anything bad about the NHS. I swear people worship the NHS.

    5. Avatar photo James Hudson says:

      @Common Sense and @ Sam P.
      Thank you for your comments. People outside of the NHS don’t understand how bad it really. Is.
      It did happen and the patient didn’t get their referral. What is there to say. We didn’t have a fax machine in the unit I was working so how could I have sent one to a department who only excepts fax referrals. Most are sent by internal post actually, and get lost by the post-room.
      If the other two think that’s bad, oh my goodness, you really should find out what is really going on.
      Managers don’t care if fax machines shouldn’t be used. @Big Dave. They still are.

  3. Avatar photo BigBrod says:

    What do they expect a lot of places still do not have solid connections for 4g/5g and 2g/3g is only option once that is turned of no signal.

    My area is like this and I do not live in a small village only o2 has 4g which still is not great and the other providers some of them the 2g outside.

    there is no need for 5g at all.

    1. Avatar photo RightSaidFred says:

      You’re going to love 6G when it comes.

      1000Gbps but only if you’re standing within 3 yards, phone pointing north, 12 inches off the ground, with the gyroscope indicating that the phone is balanced in all planes. Also, you must only be under 25 to use.

    2. Avatar photo MikeW says:

      I’m sorry the ignorance of the two comments above on a networking site is actually baffling.

      Did you see our comments on other articles when councils stop (although they have their powers limited now thankfully) and luddites how protest and illegally cut/arson sometimes crucial networking infrastructure? Why do you have bad service when you mention a large village or similar rural area, you have not posted your area but I better not see any rejections from your council about new infrastructure if you make this comment. If this is not the case then I agree with you and I support any government initiatives to bring wireless networking to the whole country. As for Fred, the number of Gs is just like updating an computer’s hardware, 5G is more efficient than 4G, 6G is more efficient than 5G and so on. Speeds will of course increase but the main change is that in urban areas we can take advantage of better frequencys over a shorter areas for better speeds, however existing frequencies on 2,3,4G can also be used for modern hardware so to speak such as 5G. So there should be no loss of signal in areas with existing telecoms connections.

    3. Avatar photo RightSaidFred says:

      I’m from Openreach’s posterboy for subtended headends.

      You’re welcome to search for where that is, then check the mobile coverage and see how bad it actually is in places.

      Yesterday I did actually see my mobile switch over to a 2G connection at one point. Not for very long, but the shock of seeing it was enough for me.

      Besides, if your own post is anything to go by, you’re effectively suggesting that I can get 5G on my 4G phone…which is impossible. So where I’m at, only one network offers any kind of 5G service, but only in limited places, and the others can barely give me a 4G signal.

      Either way, you missed the point. As the wavelengths required to transmit the signal decrease, the worse the signal gets at any kind of distance. Throw in some natural barriers like hills and mountains, and you’re likely to get anything. Even radio signals have historically been intermittent in my area.

      Thank funk for Openreach and subtended headends, so whilst the mobile operators suck, at least I can get a high speed internet connection (or at least will in the coming weeks when the fibre to the CBT outside my house gets lit).

    4. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      meanwhile in my area (and on my travels across southern England) I genuinely can’t think of a time I’ve not seen 4G or 5G on my phone, ie my phone did not need to switch to 2G or 3G.

      If anything 4G should beat 3G (especially on EE and 3) because of the use of lower frequency spectrum.

      Do you have VoLTE / 4G calling enabled on your phone? This is likely to make a tremendous difference. I wonder if the moaners are either on an MVNO that does not support it yet, or get to experience the “fun” of Android where your phone may or may not be compatible. (all iPhones from the 6 onwards are compatible on all UK networks)

  4. Avatar photo eric jarvie says:

    There really is just too much ignorance when it comes to the switch off. Mobile phone users dint know what protocol there device uses or what network services are available bmeg 2g 3g or 4g and 5g.Theres an lack of understanding for the many parties involved.Networks mobile phone retailers amd the consumers limited understanding of the technology.We the people need government to guide us through this confusing technology so important to pur live as the average Joe will not understand what what kind if phone he has does his network or rather SIM support his device.Inly direct government help can guide the people wisely as mobile phone retailers and networks or ISPS simply can’t or won’t..

    1. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      what’s confusing about it?

      If you have an ancient Nokia 3310 or a cheap dumbphone, it’ll still work as 2G is not going anywhere yet

      If you have an iPhone 6 or newer, it’ll still work (but VoLTE/4G calling should be enabled for best results)

      If you have an Android device, this is where any real confusion can arise, as there are so many models and Google’s handling of VoLTE compatibility has been very poor. Either way, any reputable brand (eg Samsung) from the last few years is likely to work fine.

  5. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

    HMG’s good old standby for “Lessons learned” . . . “Oh dear, . .you fell down the elephant trap . . . again . . . and its going to cost to get you out”

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Other than TETRA what were their options?

      2G/3G were state of the art once and mobile companies need that spectrum as, you know, they don’t make it anymore.

      In other news you know this article is about local authorities not HMG, right?

  6. Avatar photo DUMP says:

    What do these people in councils/ government get paid to do? Our local council (Conservative run for the last 100 years) Labour or Conservative doesnt make any difference, went bankrupt a few years ago.. no one was held accountable, no one was fired, no one was even named and shamed, just business as usual. Theyre still making the same decisions/ mistakes and Im wondering will they declare bankruptcy again. The same council constantly refuses Three/H3G monopole planning permission. I cant wait for 3G switch off, these fools are going to be a laughing stock (again). However, unfortunately it wont affect them, they’ll still get paid and theyll carry on business as usual.

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