BT confirms it's switching off 3G in UK from Jan next year

Time to retire that Nokia N97 at last?

BT has updated the schedule to phase out 3G services from its networks a little later than planned, saying this will now start early next year.

Britain’s former state-owned telecoms operator says the EE mobile division will commence a nationwide 3G switch off in January 2024 and plans to complete the process by March, but is keen for everyone to know it aims to take a responsible approach to turning out the lights.

As part of this, the telco promised that all of customers that are registered as vulnerable will be offered a free 4G-ready mobile phone, or a discount on a monthly plan if they prefer to choose their own handset, to ensure they still have a phone service once 3G is turned off.

The company has already trialled this in Warrington in north west England, where 3G services were no longer available from July 18 this year, and claimed it had received no customer complaints (which we find hard to believe), and so it will be following the same approach across the country.

BT has prepared a 3G factsheet [PDF] to help elderly and vulnerable people, as well as their families, understand what is happening and how to make ensure they are not impacted by the switch off.

This was produced with charity AbilityNet, which helps vulnerable people access technology, and BT claimed that 4,000 people will have received AbilityNet training by the end of 2023 as part of sessions held in places such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, and London.

BT had earlier indicated that it planned to shut down 3G by 2023. We asked the company if this had been pushed back, and a spokesperson told us that “Our plan has always been to move customers off the 3G network during 2023 (i.e. phase out customer reliance on the network) before we start the nationwide 3G network switch off in early 2024.”

The telco is not the only company turning off its 3G services, as all of the mobile networks are looking to shut off the now outdated technology in order to focus on rolling out newer kit such as 5G.

Vodafone announced last year that it would begin retiring its 3G network in 2023 as part of a network modernization program, and is also aiming to complete its switch-off early in 2024. Three expects to discontinue 3G services by the end of 2024, leaving O2 as the laggard planning to switch off in 2025.

This means that the telcos are all ahead of the plans announced by the UK government back in 2021 to have 2G and 3G networks phased out by 2033.

There are good reasons for doing this, of course, as newer kit is more energy efficient than the older gear; BT claimed that 3G represents around 35 percent of the EE mobile network’s total power consumption, despite 3G usage falling to just 0.6 percent of total data downloaded and 7 percent of voice traffic this summer.

In addition, retiring 3G means that network operators such as BT/EE can reuse the spectrum for other purposes, such as enhancing their 5G network support. The UK government earlier this year announced that it wanted not just 5G, but standalone 5G coverage over all populated areas of the UK by 2030, but wasn’t stumping up any cash to help the telcos meet this goal. ®

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