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Shut off 3G by 2033? How about 2023, asks Vodafone UK

Says it'll be 'asking customers' to make sure own phones support 4G, and to check on friends, family

Vodafone is to begin retirement of its 3G network next year, saying this will free up frequencies to improve 4G and 5G services.

The move follows proposals by the UK government late last year to see 2G and 3G networks phased out by 2033. Other networks have already confirmed plans to start early, with BT phasing out 3G services for EE, Plusnet and BT Mobile subscribers from 2023.

Vodafone said it will begin retiring its 3G network in 2023 as part of a network modernisation programme.

The plan will see 3G coverage gradually phased out and replaced by strengthened 4G and 5G services, which Vodafone said will allow customers across the UK to access more reliable connectivity.

A Vodafone spokesperson told The Register this will be a gradual process that is likely to start with areas where there is the least 3G traffic, which in practice means cities that are already well-served by 4G and 5G coverage.

"We can't confirm exact timeframes for the switch off at this stage as it's dependent on a few factors, but Vodafone would anticipate most (if not all) of its 3G service being retired in 2023," the spokesperson said.

The company claims less than 4 per cent of all the data traffic on Vodafone's entire network is now carried by 3G services, compared with more than 30 per cent in 2016.

However, rural areas are typically less blessed with coverage, and many subscribers there will know that 3G is often the only service available, even if your handset is capable of 4G or 5G. The modernisation programme is an opportunity for the company to address this.

Vodafone said that today's announcement is the start of a campaign to ensure customers are aware of the coming switch-off and can prepare so they, and, for example, their elderly relatives, remain connected during the changes happening next year.

"We start communicating to customers about this today – our goal is for everyone to stay connected, and we'll be doing everything we can to make sure that's the case. During the campaign, we'll be asking customers not just to make sure that their own phone supports 4G and 4G Calling, but also to check in on friends and family," Vodafone UK CEO Ahmed Essam said in a statement.

Vodafone is working with The Good Things Foundation, a charity set up to help people to improve their lives through digital technology to ensure the campaign reaches the most vulnerable consumers.

As well as 4G and 5G services getting a coverage and speed boost from the repurposing of 3G spectrum, Vodafone claims the move will play a key part in its strategy to reach Net Zero by 2027.

Today's 5G networks are more than 10 times as energy efficient as old 3G equipment, according to Voda, with a 3G network estimated to use 110 KWh of energy to transmit a terabyte of data compared with 30 KWh for 4G and 8 KWh for 5G.

This is backed up telecoms providers such as Ericsson and Nokia, which both claim that 5G networks are up to 90 per cent more energy efficient than even 4G networks.

Vodafone's move has garnered approval from others in the industry. Sharad Sharma, veep of Network and B2B Business at NTT Data UK, said the planned 3G network retirement would be a positive move towards more efficient 4G and 5G services.

"More efficient network services are crucial for a more sustainable future, but it's vital that customers with legacy technology are not left behind," he said. ®

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