3G mobile network switch off: What you need to know

Millions of older smartphones will stop working when the 3G network is switched off (Getty Images)
Millions of older smartphones will stop working when the 3G network is switched off (Getty Images)

More than half of Britons have no idea that 3G will start being phased out next month, a survey has revealed.

The 3G wireless mobile technology, which was introduced in the UK 20 years ago, is on the verge of being switched off.

One major mobile phone network provider will begin decommissioning its UK 3G services in February, with others to follow suit.

However, 51% of Britons had no idea about the 3G switch off, according to a Uswitch survey published on Tuesday.

The poll of 2,000 adults also found that one in four people are still using 3G services regularly.

Here is all you need to know about the 3G switch off.

Why is 3G being switched off?

3G, which stands for "third generation", was the third type of technology used to connect mobile phones, but has since been overtaken by 4G and, in some parts of the UK, 5G.

The end is nigh for 3G to make way for faster and more reliable 5G networks.

18 January 2023, North Rhine-Westphalia, Duesseldorf: A new 5G mobile communications mast from Vodafone stands on a high-rise building at the Mörsenbroicher Ei intersection. In the first half of the year, 33 more masts are to follow to optimize network expansion. Photo: Roberto Pfeil/dpa
A new 5G mobile communications mast from Vodafone. (Alamy)

When is 3G being switched off?

Two years ago, the UK's main mobile network providers made a deal with the government that 3G - and even slower 2G - will be phased out by 2033.

However, Vodafone will begin closing its 3G services from next month, and plans to switch off its entire 3G network by the end of the year. It has no plans to close 2G before the 2033 deadline.

EE also plans to phase out its 3G in 2023 in an effort to close it completely by early 2024. It says its 2G service will be switched off "later in the decade".

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Shop store sign for Vodafone, Devizes, Wiltshire, England, UK
Vodafone will begin phasing out its 3G services next month. (Alamy)

Mobile network provider Three, which never had a 2G network, says it plans to switch off its 3G by the end of 2024.

The outlier among the big four network providers is O2, which has not made an announcement about when it plans to phase out its 3G or 2G services.

O2 will be the only major provider offering a 3G network by 2025.

Virtual networks, such as Giffgaff, Tesco Mobile and Smarty, use one of the big four's networks for their data.

Which phones will be affected?

As long as your smartphone supports 4G services, users don't need to do anything.

However, older phones built for 3G will be affected as they will no longer be able to connect to a network to use data.

Consumers can either upgrade to a new phone that supports 4G and 5G services, or make sure they are on a network that will offer 3G, which looks like being O2 for the foreseeable future.

Where can I find out more information?

Consumers can access the latest information about the 3G switch off from regulator Ofcom.

Customers of the three major network providers that have announced their plans can click on the relevant pages of the Vodafone, Three and EE websites.

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