Switching off the UK’s 3G mobile networks: what you need to know
The 3G mobile networks are gradually being switched off over the next few years. Here’s what this means for you as a customer.
The UK’s mobile services currently use four different ‘generations’ of mobile technology: 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. The 3G networks have been around since 2003 and are used to deliver calls, texts, and lower speed data services.
The mobile providers have decided to switch off their 3G networks, starting from early this year. This will affect customers on those networks using older mobile devices and services. If you have a 4G or 5G mobile device or service, this change is unlikely to affect you and may only require a software or settings update.
3G networks rely on older, less efficient technology
Providers are switching off their networks at different times
Each mobile provider is setting its own timetable for its 3G network switch-off. These timings might change and you should check your mobile provider’s website for the latest update:
- Vodafone is planning to complete its switch-off in early 2024.
- EE plans to switch-off in early 2024, starting January.
- Three expects to switch-off by the end of 2024.
- O2 is planning to switch-off in 2025.
These are the four main mobile network providers in the UK. All other mobile companies provide their services over these networks. For example:
- Lebara Mobile, Asda Mobile, Talk Mobile and VOXI use the Vodafone network.
- Your Co-op, 1p Mobile, Utility Warehouse, Ecotalk, Lycamobile, Plusnet and BT Mobile use the EE network.
- iD Mobile and Smarty, Freedompop and Superdrug Mobile use the Three network.
- Tesco Mobile, Giffgaff, Sky Mobile and Virgin Mobile use the O2 network.
3G switch-off timings for these providers will be the same as the network they are using.
Your provider will tell you if you’re affected
Your mobile provider will contact you to let you know if you are affected and what steps you need to take. You might also be able to check your device settings to see if it has 4G available – try checking under ‘mobile networks’ or ‘mobile data’.
If you have a newer device, you might not need to do anything
If you’re already using a newer 4G or 5G device, you shouldn’t need to do anything. Some 4G devices might still need a software or settings update to ensure any calls you make use the right network. Your provider will tell you if that’s the case and explain how to make the updates needed.
If you have an older device, it will need to be replaced
If you’re using an older device that doesn’t allow you to use 4G or 5G, you’ll need to get a new one to continue to access your mobile data. Again, your provider will tell you if that’s the case, so look out for any messages they send to you. They should give you lots of notice so you have time to find the right device for you.
If you’re worried that you won’t be able to afford a new device, tell your provider. They might be able to offer additional support and help with identifying affordable options. It’s also worth shopping around – there are basic 4G handsets available from as little as £10.
Customers using the EE, Vodafone and O2 networks with an older device will still be able to make calls and send text messages after 3G switch-off. These services can use the 2G network, which isn’t being switched off yet. But the 2G network was not designed to work for accessing data services, so customers with older devices will no longer be able to access most of their mobile data services after 3G switch-off (although where older devices can connect to Wi-Fi, customers can still use this to access data services).
Three doesn’t have a 2G network, so if you’re using the Three network and have an older device that doesn’t allow you to use 4G or 5G, you’ll need to replace it to make sure you can continue to make calls, send text messages and access mobile data after 2024.
Check in with any friends and family that you think might be affected by the changes too, to see if they need help in understanding what they need to do.
If you are buying a device, make sure it supports 4G
If you are buying a device, particularly from a third party seller (such as online marketplaces or in a supermarket), check that it supports the 4G network if you want to use it to access mobile data services. The information provided by the seller at the point of sale should tell you which networks (sometimes referred to as ‘technologies’) the device can use.
Other types of device might be affected
Some other devices, such as care alarms, security alarms and payment terminals, might also use the 3G network. If you have a device like this, it might need to be upgraded to make sure it still works after the 3G networks are switched off. Check with your device supplier or service provider to find out if your device will be affected.
2G will be switched off by 2033
All the mobile providers have confirmed to the Government that they do not plan to offer their 2G (and 3G) services beyond 2033.
We expect that mobile providers will start making plans to switch off their 2G networks at some point after they have switched off their 3G networks. None of the providers have set a specific date yet - EE has said it will switch off 2G ‘later this decade’. We will update this advice when more details are available.
2G and 3G networks are also being switched off around the world
The 2G and 3G networks are gradually being switched off around the world; all the 3G networks have already been switched off in the USA. Each country has a different timetable for switch-off.
If you’re travelling to a country where the switch-off has already begun, it might affect your roaming experience. In some cases, you might not be able to make calls or access data unless you are connected to Wi-Fi (especially if you have an older phone). Speak to your provider before you leave the UK, and read our related advice on using your phone abroad.
If you have any questions or concerns about 3G switch-off, please contact your mobile provider.
We have also published information on how we expect mobile providers to approach the switch-off.