Vodafone UK to begin 3G switch off in June


Following successful trials in Plymouth and Basingstoke, Vodafone says it is ready to move forward with the sunsetting of its 3G network next month

This week, Vodafone UK has confirmed that it will begin its nationwide 3G network shutdown in June.

The operator said it had conducted successful trails in Plymouth and Basingstoke in February this year, giving the operator confidence to begin its wider shutdown next month.

The first areas to be switched off in June will reportedly be Hull, Oxford and Greater London, with the rest of the South set to follow. The remainder of the UK will see its 3G network shutdown later in the year.

“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,” said Vodafone’s Network Director in the UK, Andrea Dona. “3G use has already dropped significantly as most of Vodafone’s customers now use the 4G network. Currently less than 4% of the data is used on our 3G network, in comparison to more than 30% in 2016.”

The operator says that few customers should be affected by the shutdown, but highlighted the availability of its Digital Skills Hotline to help vulnerable customers that may need extra support when migrating to new handsets and new services.

Vodafone first announced that it was targeting 2023 for its 3G switch-off last year, shortly after the UK government announced that all of the UK’s mobile operators had agreed to shut down both 2G and 3G networks by 2033.

Despite being an older technology, Vodafone’s 2G network will remain operational for some time after the company’s 3G shutdown, since it remains useful for low-power IoT devices like smart metres, as well as a far-reaching backup for voice communications.

Vodafone notes that switching off their 3G network will allow the network’s spectrum to be refarmed for use in its more modern 4G and 5G networks. According to a statement given to ISPreview at the start of last year, around 10MHz of spectrum in the 900MHz band will be used to bolster the operator’s 4G network, with the rest of that spectrum band being explored for use in 5G.

The operator also points out just how much more energy efficient these next generation networks are compared to 3G, with a terabyte of data sent over 5G using just 7% of the energy used to send the same amount of data across the 3G network. As such, the sunsetting of the company’s 3G (and later 2G) networks represent a major step towards the company’s goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2027.

If all goes to plan, Vodafone’s 3G network will be completely shut down by the end of the year.

Both EE and Three UK are planning more gradual 3G switch off, aiming for a complete phase out of the legacy technology in 2024. Customers are already being migrated to the companies’ 4G and 5G networks.

Virgin Media O2, meanwhile, has yet to set a date for its own 3G switch off.

Is the UK telecoms industry on track to meet the government’s ambitious coverage goals for 2030? Join the experts in discussion at this year’s live Connected Britain conference

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