3G mobile: will the UK network shutdown affect you? | Telecommunications industry
Vodafone has announced plans to shut down its aging 3G network next year to focus on using freed-up spectrum to expand its 4G and 5G networks. Here, we explore the impact the move could have.
What is 3G?
Launched at the turn of the century, the 3G spectrum marked the beginning of the transition from simple mobile phones to the bells and whistles smartphones most people own today.
From video calling and accessing services such as online banking and shopping to watching Premier League highlights, 3G spectrum ushered in the mobile era of the wider digital revolution.
Mobile operators spent £22.5billion on the UK spectrum auction in 2000, as the promise of billions in new revenue from improved usage beyond texting and phone calls has fueled a furious bidding war. Three, owned by Hutchison, launched the UK’s first 3G network in 2003.
Why is it off?
The UK’s 3G networks were state-of-the-art two decades ago, but the technology has been replaced by more powerful and efficient 4G and 5G networks.
As most mobile phone users have switched to smartphones over the years, 3G is becoming obsolete. Today, less than 4% of data used by Vodafone customers is on its 3G network, and at BT-owned EE it’s just 2%, down from around 30% in 2016.
Mobile operators are looking to retire 3G networks and use spectrum to bolster 4G and 5G services.
Who will be affected?
BT, which owns mobile brands such as EE and Plusnet, previously said there were between 2 and 3 million people using 3G handsets across all UK mobile networks.
Many of them are older phone owners who preferred to stick with simple-to-use devices rather than being seduced by smartphones. Some have kept a 3G-capable version as a backup option in case they lose their primary phone.
In 2017 there was an upsurge in the popularity of simple phones, with Nokia’s 3310 3G selling 13 million handsets worldwide and making it the third most popular phone brand in the UK that year.
Will switching off 3G affect mobile phone coverage in the UK?
Based on coverage data, approximately 2.2% of the UK is only covered by a 3G signal. For the most part this in remote locations such as rural Scotland, parts of North Norfolk, Wales and Cornwall.
However, all of these locations still have a basic 2G signal, which allows voice calls but has extremely limited access to internet data, which is not disabled. However, EE said it hopes that as 4G and 5G coverage rolls out, it hopes to be able to turn off 2G networks as soon as 2025.