Half of Brits unaware of looming 3G network switch-off

It’s a service used by more than 30 million Brits, but half of the public (51%) are unaware that the UK’s 3G mobile network is to be phased out from next month, according to new research by Uswitch.com, the comparison, and switching service.

While the third-generation technology is now 20 years old, one in four (25%) say they use 3G regularly, while 7 per cent said it’s the only network they can access. Over 55s were least likely to know about the 3G switch-off, with six in ten (61%) unaware of the changes, while two-fifths (40%) of those aged 18 to 34 had not heard of the plans.

Over half of the mobile users in Plymouth (55%) say that they still use 3G, while Newcastle and Sheffield residents were the most likely to have to tap into the 3G network (70%).

Tesco Mobile customers were found to be the most in the dark about 3G being phased out, with two-thirds (65%) of them saying they didn’t know it was happening.

In recent years the UK’s main mobile providers have focused their investment on improving the 4G network and the rollout of its 5G services. The 3G shutdown will allow more room for these more advanced networks, and the UK Government has set a deadline of 2033 for both 2G and 3G to be turned off completely. 

Uswitch contacted the big four network operators to find out what their plans are for winding down 3G. Vodafone is looking to decommission all its UK 3G services by the end of the year, starting with Plymouth and Basingstoke in February. EE will also phase out the network throughout the year, with it set to shut completely in early 2024. Next year is also closing time for Three’s 3G services, while O2 is yet to confirm its plans.

Vodafone, EE, and Three all stressed to Uswitch that the 2G network will still be acting as a safety network for people that may not have access to faster speeds after 3G is turned off. However, 2G is far slower than its successor and can take several minutes to download a web page.

Uswitch experts have advised that while the 3G switch-off may affect a proportion of people who don’t have 4G or 5G enabled phones, most phone users should not be impacted by this change.

Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at Uswitch.com said, “millions of mobile phone users aren’t aware that 3G is being phased out, or how this will impact their ability to get online - especially with sluggish 2G serving as the only fallback in several cases.

“Focusing investment on 4G and 5G networks is a sensible move to ensure all mobile users get access to faster and more reliable services, both now and in the future. However - it’s important to make sure no one gets left behind.

“Although the network speeds 3G offers are slow by modern standards, there are still people that rely on this older generation network, especially in rural areas, as a primary means of connectivity.

“The good news for most mobile users who have upgraded to a 4G or 5G enabled device and plan - is you are unlikely to be impacted by this change, although you may still need a quick software update to stay connected.

“Providers must also do more to make sure their customers are clear on what their timeline is for turning off 3G, and which towns and cities will be affected.

“People still using 3G-enabled smartphones that cannot access the more modern networks will need to upgrade their handset soon or risk losing access to their mobile data altogether.”

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