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Vodafone Confirm UK 3G Signals Have Been Shut Down, Almost

Tuesday, Feb 27th, 2024 (11:30 am) - Score 2,600
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Mobile operator Vodafone has this morning echoed EE’s recent announcement (here) by confirming that they’ve successfully switched-off their 3G mobile (mobile broadband) network across the UK. The related radio frequencies will now be repurposed to strengthen faster 4G and 5G services, but there’s a small catch.

The activity, which is said to have “finished this week“, actually happened slightly later than their previous target of completing the 3G switch-off by the end of January 2024. One additional catch here is that a “small number of locations” (they don’t say precisely how many) with UK security significance, as well as a handful of remote rural areas, will remain switched-on for a short period of time (they don’t say how short) after the main national switch off. So it’s not completely.. off, yet.

NOTE: Vodafone’s 3G had 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).

The change will naturally free up 3G’s radio spectrum frequencies (i.e. 10MHz of spectrum in their 900MHz band) so that it can be re-farmed to further improve the network coverage and mobile broadband speeds of more modern 4G and 5G based networks. The switch-off will also reduce the operators’ costs and significantly cut power consumption on their network.

However, Vodafone’s announcement (credits to Nick for spotting) doesn’t provide an update on how many complaints they’ve received about the switch-off, which is much the same as EE’s update from yesterday.

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

“The 3G legacy switch off has been a massive programme and I’d like to thank my team for their hard work to make this a success. With switch off complete, we can start to redeploy the remaining spectrum which will ultimately lead to stronger and faster 4G and 5G across the UK. All on top of our existing 4G and 5G network improvement programmes. Good news for our customers, businesses and the wider UK economy.”

The progress leaves only two UK operators left to complete the 3G switch-off, even though, strictly speaking, Vodafone haven’t fully completed their own programme yet. Three UK aim to switch off the service by the end of 2024, while 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 government and all major mobile operators previously agreed to phase-out existing 2G and 3G signals by 2033 (here), although 2G will be sticking around for a few years longer than 3G because such signals remain useful as a low-power fallback, particularly 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).

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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
16 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Vince says:

    Ah yes, the great 3G switch off where we were all promised they’d improve 4G/5G coverage so you’d not be worse off.

    Meanwhile… I’m now worse off in multiple locations as there is now only 2G…

    Good work.

    1. Avatar photo gina says:

      This is the United Kingdom, home of laughable technical implementations and any number of committees and endless public enquiries. So which part of ‘improvement’ were you extecting

    2. Avatar photo No name says:

      This is something I’ve noticed. Where 3G was, you only get 2G now. But if you force your phone to 4G only, 4G works.

      They have some work to do with their configuration. There really is a problem with getting put on 2G when decent 4G signal is around.

    3. Avatar photo Peter says:

      Sounds like a problem with your phone.

    4. Avatar photo Jimmy says:

      I don’t think it necessarily is, Peter. My phone would fall back to 3G much more regularly on Vodafone than it would on EE. Same handset, two SIMs.

    5. Avatar photo Jon says:

      EE & VF have a fundamentally different network design, where the 3G fallback is concerned.

    6. Avatar photo Martyn says:

      Now now, I fired up my analogue Motorola 8500X and I’m pleased to report it’s working well, stop complaining lads, there is hope for us yet.

  2. Avatar photo Oli says:

    I used to get decent 4G coverage at home and good 3G coverage around the estate.

    Now I am struggling to get even a single bar of 4G and most of my apps struggle to load.

    I joined VF because compared to other providers, they did seem to have a good coverage and decent speeds (10mbps) enough to use the apps on my phone.

  3. Avatar photo DD says:

    Vodafone in London and Greater London has been appalling recently. It’s definitely got worse in the last 6 months. I’ve been with them for 13 years and it’s never been as bad as this. 5G in London often doesn’t work at all and I have to manually select 4G. 4G is also faster than 5G more times than not when it does work. The oddest thing I’ve noticed though is dropping down to 2G/Edge in urban locations since the 3G shut off, such as near Hayes on the Elizabeth Line, and along the South Western Railway route into Waterloo. It’s got that bad that I think I’m finally going to leave this year. Vodafone used to be the best in London in my opinion, it’s not great at the moment!

    1. Avatar photo No name says:

      This has been my biggest gripe. 4G isn’t staying connected for longer now 3G is gone. It’s handing down at the same time it did to 3G but this time to 2G.

      I left for O2 recently for this reason. Too many slow areas are now dead areas.

    2. Avatar photo Roger_Gooner says:

      @DD: Don’t rush to move to O2 as I can hardly get a signal on the Elizabeth Line west of Paddington.

  4. Avatar photo Steve says:

    Meanwhile they continue the anti-competitive practice of restricting a wide range of phones that are VoLTE and VoWiFi capable not enabling this feature unless the handset is purchased directly from Vodafone (Google Pixel being one of the most notable handsets). I’ve flagged this up with the CMA to see if they can determine Vodafone’s abuse of market power.

  5. Avatar photo Mike says:

    Yesterday i got a train from Milton Keynes to Nottingham. I was shocked as i couldn’t use my phone for most of the duration of the trip. 70% of the time i was on EDGE and even GPRS. And the year is 2024!!!!

    1. Avatar photo Bill watch says:

      More than reason to go with EE. Yes they are expensive but you get what you paid for going with them.

  6. Avatar photo Rob says:

    After the switch, my phone just immediately switches to EDGE or GPRS or even sometimes no service where I used to get full bars and 4G. The issue only happens on 800Mhz only masts. I seem to be having the problem on android and iPhone, the Vodafone coverage checker reports no problems and Vodafone support just says “Sorry, the coverage checker says good so it must be good”. Normally restarting my phone fixes the issue but its still inconvenient and not how the network should work.

  7. Avatar photo Nick says:

    O2 runs all phone calls through 3G on O2 Pay & Go, the prepay service from O2. 5G is not available to Pay & Go customers and 4G is only for data. When you make or receive a call, you’ll notice that your phone will switch to H or H+ which is 3G. If you are suffering with slow or unusable data with 4G O2 tells customers to switch to 3G only mode, unfortunately this is not possible anymore with phones that have the latest software and these options have been removed.

    This clearly shows how behing Virgin Media O2 are with 5G roll out and there must be capacity issues with 4G if they are running phone calls through 3G as standard.

    On my Sky Mobile sim, I do get O2’s 5G but its extremely patchy and noticeably not as good as EE or Three.

    I think Telefonica put some investments on hold given that they weren’t sure what they were going to do with O2 as the Three O2 merger failed and then there was Covid and then they decided to merge with Virgin Media.

    It doesn’t help moving 2 million users over from Virgin Mobile onto O2 suddenly plus all the virtual networks like Sky,Tesco and Giffgaff. The investment hasn’t kept up with the level of congestion.

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