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The big 3G switch-off: Will you lose access to mobile internet?

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Millions of Brits are in the dark when it comes to networks shutting down 3G. Will you still be able to access the internet, or will you need to upgrade your smartphone?

Half of Brits are unaware that the UK’s 3G mobile network is to be phased out, as early as February for some customers, according to Uswitch.

The third-generation technology is now 20 years old, with mobile providers focusing investment on improving the 4G network and rolling out 5G services.

The Government has set a deadline of 2033 for both 2G and 3G to be turned off completely.

But according to Uswitch, it revealed that Vodafone (including Voxi, Virgin Mobile, Asda Mobile, Lebara Mobile and TalkMobile) is looking to decommission 3G services by the end of the year, starting with Plymouth and Basingstoke in February.

EE, which also includes BT and Plusnet Mobile, will also phase out the network throughout the year, with it due to shut completely in early 2024.

Next year, Three, which also includes Smarty and iD Mobile, will call time on its 3G service, while O2, including Giffgaff, Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile and Lycamobile, is yet to confirm 3G switch off plans.

What does this mean for 3G mobile handsets?

Vodafone, EE and Three stressed that the 2G network will still be acting as a “safety network” for people who may not have access to faster speeds after 3G is turned off.

However, Uswitch warned that 2G is far slower than its successor and can take several minutes to download a web page.

It also warned that people using 3G-enabled smartphones may need to upgrade their handsets.

Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at Uswitch.com, said: “It is clear that 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 a number of cases.

“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 the majority of mobile users who have upgraded to a 4G or 5G enabled device and plan – you are unlikely to be impacted by this change, although you may still need a quick software update to stay connected.

“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.”

The comparison site said that for those who will need to upgrade but who are on a budget, there are pay-monthly deals that include a 4G-ready handset, such as the Samsung Galaxy A13 from £13 a month.