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Survey Claims 2.7 Million UK People Unprepared for 3G Switch Off

Thursday, Jan 4th, 2024 (11:58 am) - Score 3,440
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A new Opinium survey of 2,000 UK adults, which was commissioned by Uswitch.com and conducted in late November 2023, has warned that 13% of mobile users still don’t know if their phone is 4G or 5G ready and 5% say they still use a 3G handset.

The survey suggests this equates to 2.7 million Brits who “could be without access to mobile [broadband]” if they do not upgrade their device or follow the steps advised by their provider. Elderly mobile users may be more likely to be affected, with 24% of people aged 75+ not being sure if their phone is 4G or 5G ready, and a further 7% saying they still use a 3G handset. Consequently, 32% of people feel concerned that elderly relatives “might be left disconnected by the 3G switch-off“.

Furthermore, 43% of respondents said they were not even award that the switch-off was coming, which is surprising given how much publicity it’s received across the media over the past year. But then not everybody reads or watches the news, which will put more pressure on mobile operators to ensure their customer engagement efforts are getting through.

The research also suggests that mobile network operators, such as Three UK, Vodafone, O2 and EE, may come up against some resistance to change. In fact, only 19% of people whose phone is not or may not be 4G/5G ready said they would not be willing to upgrade their handset, while 21% said they would simply opt to not use the internet on their phone (i.e. if 3G stops on an older non-4G/5G capable device then it’ll drop back to 2G).

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 was aiming to complete this by the end of 2023, but the final phase is actually taking place this month (January 2024).

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

EE (BT) last year began 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, mainly due to having a larger legacy of 3G devices in their network (e.g. Smart Meters).

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, 3G services are the first to go because older 2G signals remain necessary for a fair few connectivity solutions, while 3G was a more data centric technology that has fewer dependencies. Mobile operators are currently contacting affected customers to inform them of their options, which often includes the offer of free handset upgrades and various other advice / support.

So far as we can tell, the 3G switch-off process has gone fairly smoothly, but that’s partly because only a tiny minority of consumers are actually still stuck on 3G devices or in areas where 3G is the best data signal available. Nevertheless, 2024 is going to be the crunch year for this transition, and we’ll be watching very closely for any rise in complaints.

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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
39 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Kris Lord says:

    Why would you ask the user base if they are ready rather than the networks?

    Surely the networks know if the devices connecting to it are 3G only?

    1. Avatar photo Matt says:

      They do, A month or so ago I got a text from Vodafone saying that my Nokia 3310 emergency phone that I keep in the car was 2g/3g only and that I would only get 2g from early this year. Even included a link to flog me a 4g device, which I didn’t do as 2g is fine for the moment.

  2. Avatar photo MilesT says:

    Plenty of non-4G/5G phones circulating on eBay–lots of people will be sold a pup!

    1. Avatar photo JP says:

      Not really, they’ll just get 2G…

      I have 3G phones here now that already can’t get 3G from Vodafone/O2 as a result of them not supporting 900mhz 3G, didn’t see any click bait about that years ago when they shutdown 2100mhz 3G in favour of 4G.

      Funny enough the one of those phones is an O2 branded Sony Ericsson T700 which can’t get 3G ‘anymore’

      https://www.gsmarena.com/sony_ericsson_t700-2481.php

    2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      they might get 2G, but if they’re using it for anything other than phone calls that’ll very clearly be a sub par (ie useless) experience.

      it doesn’t have to be old phones either. My dad somehow managed to buy a random-name brand new Android device that didn’t support 4G at all, not even a case of the wrong bands. His main phone is a modern Samsung that supports 5G and VoLTE and all the rest of it, whereas this was meant to be a cheap emergency phone for the car.

    3. Avatar photo JP says:

      Thats just unfortunate, but its not exactly the networks problem now is it.

      If they are providing voice calls (emergency at that) then they’ve fulfilled there basic requirements.

      Personally I don’t want to see 2G go, but it’s also not of any use to the avwerage user anymore and if anything has some significant caveats

    4. Avatar photo Sam P says:

      Three doesn’t even have 2G

    5. Avatar photo JP says:

      Good for Three, they only have to worry about people talking once then don’t they.

  3. Avatar photo Ivor says:

    no, but I think there’s a lot more to do to discourage people from buying cheap phones that won’t work properly in the near future.

    a government that wasn’t distracted by culture war nonsense could mandate that retailers/ebay/cex/etc put a warning against any non-compliant devices. perhaps an extreme approach like locking out any new 2G/3G only devices that appear on someone’s account, until they’ve confirmed they understand what’s happening and what the impact is.

    especially when there are now equally cheap phones that will work properly. Nokia makes a cheap (circa £15) dumbphone that supports 4G and VoLTE and has long battery life.

    1. Avatar photo Billy Shears says:

      or people could just engage their brain. Doesn’t happen very often. Why do we always get into “the government has to do something”?

    2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      a) we have a population where a large number of people are ignorant of things that will affect them, some are even proud of it

      b) consumer protection is literally one of the government’s many responsibilities and the “laissez faire” attitude of recent years has shown to have a number of pitfalls

      c) the above will snowball into a larger issue if not tackled.

    3. Avatar photo Billy Shears says:

      “consumer protection is literally one of the government’s many responsibilities” true but the first line of defence is personal responsibility.

    4. Avatar photo JP says:

      “could mandate that retailers/ebay/cex/etc put a warning against any non-compliant devices.”

      Think I was beaten to it but my response to that is people could take some damned responsibility for the own damned actions.

      ….

      If networks actually put in place barriers to stop people reselling devices, or even using partitially or unsupported devices on their networks then you would probably say government needs to do something about that too.
      ….

    5. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      and both of you are being idealistic, wanting a perfect population that doesn’t exist, while I’m talking about what we actually have.

      We have a population that will buy the cheapest device they see and complain to anyone who will listen when it doesn’t work correctly, and we have plenty of businesses who are either unethical or outright breaking the law (thinking more about selling stuff that doesn’t have CE/UKCA compliance).

      I think it’d be acceptable to force such customers to have to confirm that they understand the risk and probable wasted money before they can use the device on a given network – especially when they inevitably whine to Ofcom.

      But maybe I’ve just got fed up seeing people who claim XYZ network is “crap” when in reality it’s because they don’t have a phone that supports all available technologies or have misconfigured it.

    6. Avatar photo JP says:

      ‘Yawn’ just clocked who you are.

      Ciao

  4. Avatar photo AndyC says:

    Our local asda and tesco’s are still selling 3g handsets….. think the shops need to be involved in spreading the word as well.

    1. Avatar photo The facts says:

      What models?

    2. Avatar photo Chris says:

      I checked Tesco Mobile’s website and I do not see any non-4G handsets. Even the cheapest flip phones are 4G.
      Also, if someone bought a 3G phone today, it would still work, just not for fast internet access.

      I think the perceived impact of the 3G switch off is much higher than the reality will be due to misunderstanding

    3. Avatar photo JP says:

      What phones too ???

      I know of 3G devices that don’t even have web browsing capabilities which is odd, but selling them is hardly an issue as they’ll still do what they where sold to do.

      I personally think people are getting stupidly bored now and need a new major news story to break.

    4. Avatar photo JP says:

      Neither of them phones are 3G, they are both 2G only handsets. So unaffected!

  5. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

    50 F-16s to Ukraine should do it . . . . .in which case . . . back to shortwave (If you’re lucky).

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Funnier in the pub?

  6. Avatar photo Mark Smith says:

    handsets which use 3G for data actually use 2G for voice, so the should still be a able to be used for voice and even SMS even after the 3G switch off, for a good few years to come.

    However, if someone has a 3G handset and uses it for data services, I would think that it would be long past receiving any updates from the manufacturer so will likely have some serious vulnerabilities by now as well as not being able to use the latest apps or versions of those apps and services. It will most likely be unable to use any google services for example.

    Lastly, a 3G phone will have a battery which is very old now and is unlikely to hold charge for usable periods if it is being used regularly during the day.
    So, altogether I’m not sure that the 3G switch off will be such a large scale event for a lot of users.

    1. Avatar photo Jon says:

      “handsets which use 3G for data actually use 2G for voice” is nonsense. I suspect you’re thinking of CSFB for non-VoLTE devices which can be to either 2G or 3G.

      But 3G can & does carry voice & data.

  7. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

    Thanks to Blackberry progressively withdrawing support for internet software on my 12 year old QNX powered PAYG Blackberry Curve, this device effectively lost internet connectivity 7 years ago and consequently has been used as a mains adapter/USB powered “Home Hub” for incoming phone calls and texts in the intervening period.I’ve still got the original 2011 battery and its still OK to use in this scenario.

    As my MSP has stated that they don’t intend to turn-off 2G until 2033 (Believe that if you will), 3G switch-off or not, it will be business as usual for this device.

    And then for mobile 4G and 5G, I still have a partially operational 6 year old Nokia Windows Lumia (Used as mobile reserve) which again is best at calls and text (Internet is a bit slow and inconsistent).

    Additionally, I have a 4G Android and a 5G capable Android – though because I’m in an island of “Not-spots”, 5G doesn’t work . . and that’s NW London.

    1. Avatar photo RightSaidFred says:

      Ever considered that having one functional mobile is enough?

    2. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

      Err . . hardly me to blame if these ancient devices still work. I’m loath to shove ’em in the electronic waste filing cabinet i.e. the desk drawer.I like to sweat assets ’til the hardware falls to bits. And its nice to have a fall-back device/ISP network. Truth be known, I haven’t had the time to de-commission some of thess units . . .which might involve advising shed loads of third parties of a new number. It takes me enough time just to obtain a new device that will keep me operating feasibly in the current operating “Window” dictated by the manufacturers and suppliers.

      Like everybody else I was forced to change to a new device because the manufacturers withdrew support, first Blackberry and then Windows and one of the Androids was unrequested gift anyway. And with Android OS, functionality of older machines is progressively impaired with the release of each new Android issue every 15 months, and, in a situation where over-the-air manufacturer supplied OS updates are on average limited to two successive updates, most consumer/owners are compelled to get a new machine after three years (Not many have the time or knowledge to do a straight ISO update of the phone OS themselves, and older hardware often will not support all the features of a new OS or, sometimes run at all). This is the rentier/medieval/oligoppolist economy after all – you must pay your annual tithe . . even if your’re PAYG.

      I must admit that over Christmas I was researching the method to update the older of the two Android phones from 9 to 12 and the same for a Lenovo tablet which has exhausted over-the-air manufacturer updates and is stuck on 10.

  8. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    There is someone at work who has just a normal non-smart mobile phone, he had no idea about the 3G switch off until I told him, not really going to affect him as calls and text will go over 2G, but it does show that not everyone knows what is happening.
    Since he doesn’t use the net, he would not see it on sites and yes he may have heard it on the news, but he is not into tech, so I doubt he took much notice. He is only just about able to use the handsets at work 🙂

  9. Avatar photo Jonny says:

    to be fair, when 4G was first rolled out in the UK (October 2012~) , it didn’t support VoLTE, so handsets like the iPhone 5 and 5S used to regularly jump down to 2G or 3G for calls and texts. This is called Circuit Switched Fallback.

    The three-UK 3G switch off will be more interesting since they have no 2G, so no Circuit Switched Fallback.

    1. Avatar photo MilesT says:

      Three could (and possibly should) do something about that–making a suitable commercial arrangement with one of the other networks, possibly EE since they often share masts). Assuming Three remains independent (there have been suggestions that Voda may buy them, subject to Competition Commission permission, and that could be a way for Three to offer up a 2G fallback)

  10. Avatar photo Optimist says:

    Is there a list somewhere of which models are affected?

  11. Avatar photo E E says:

    I live in quite a rural area and often only 3G works – I’m happy for it to be switched off but 4/5g have to be improved.

    1. Avatar photo Michael V says:

      I think there’s a lack of education from the Operators about this. I’ve only seen it on their sites and on some tech sites. I haven’t seen anything on the news as I don’t really watch it much.

      When 3G-HSPA is shut down they won’t leave a place without 4G. The mast will either be upgraded with 4G cells or a new mast put up in its place to cover the same area in 4G-LTE.

  12. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    Think they’re seriously jumping the gun on this one. They’ve nowhere near replaced 5G with the same amount of coverage as 4G and they’re dumping 3G already….honestly.

    1. Avatar photo Anon32 says:

      Jumping the gun. Most providers in countries that people on this website like to compare this country to have already shut down 3g. It’s over 20 years old and by the end of the decade 2g will be gone too! Once that goes lots of phones will become obsolete. There was never an issue when 1g was shut down in 1998. Only in the UK. Whinge when they don’t install 5g but then whinge when we let earlier technologies die. All phones that work with 3g will still work on 2g. EE has specifically banned edge so no internet. The internet on edge would be too slow anyway.

    2. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      At least 4g’s saving grace is they’re “pretend 5g” won’t work without it.

  13. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    Does it also mean LTE is being turned off????

    1. Avatar photo Blueacid says:

      Nope, LTE is 4G, which is the new ‘main’ coverage type.

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