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Vodafone to begin phasing out 3G next year

The operator says the move will help it meet both its net zero target and the government’s 3G sunset deadline

Vodafone has announced plans to gradually phase out 3G starting next year.

The move will allow the mobile operator to repurpose the existing 3G spectrum to bolster 4G and 5G services, as well as to meet both its net zero strategy and government’s 3G sunset deadline.

In December 2021, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced that the UK will phase out all of its public 2G and 3G mobile networks by 2033 in order to facilitate the mass rollout of 5G and 6G.

The repurposing of 3G spectrum will allow Vodafone to switch to more sustainable equipment used in 5G networks, decreasing its environmental footprint in line with the goal of achieving net zero by 2027.

Commenting on the announcement, Vodafone CEO Ahmed Essam, said that the mobile operator is “focusing on the technologies that best connect our customers and have the least impact on the environment”. 

“3G has connected so many customers over the last 17 years, but the future is 4G and 5G. We’re going to be focused on giving customers a faster and more reliable mobile experience, and minimising our impact on the environment by taking away a layer of our network that uses inefficient equipment,” he added.

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Vodafone is asking all customers to ensure that their friends and family, especially “people who aren’t confident with technology”, have access to a 4G-supported phone by next year.

“We want to ensure everyone is getting the help that they need so that no one is left behind,” said Essam, adding that the company will initiate “a year-long communications campaign to help those who may need additional support”.

Not more than 4% of all data used on Vodafone’s network currently travels on 3G, the mobile operator noted, a sharp decline from more than 30% in 2016.

In July 2021, BT found that 3G represented less than 2% of data traffic over its EE network. The low demand prompted the operator to become the first UK mobile operator to set a date for the retirement of its 3G services, with the deadline announced for 2023.

Three and Virgin Media O2 weren’t immediately available to comment on their plans regarding the legacy network.

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