Vodafone to turn off UK 3G network in 2023 to focus on 5G rollout

Vodafone 3G

Vodafone UK has said it will retire its 3G network in 2023 in a bid to improve the 4G and 5G experience for its customers. 

The British multinational plans to phase out 3G coverage gradually and will replace it by strengthened 4G and 5G services across the UK. The telecom company is retiring 3G after 17 years and nearly 500 billion minutes of calls. 

Vodafone said that less than 4% of data is used on its 3G network in comparison to 30% in 2016. The company first launched 3G in November 2004 and it has since co-existed with three generations of cellular technology: 2G, 4G, and 5G.

Vodafone is also launching an awareness campaign to ensure customers stay connected during the change next year.

Vodafone’s UK CEO, Ahmed Essam, said: “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 phone supports 4G and 4G Calling, but also to check in on friends and family.”

According to the estimate, around two million people are still relying on 3G handsets across all UK’s mobile networks. The move from Vodafone will force those people to upgrade their handsets. 

Essam added: “There are people who aren’t confident with technology, and we want to ensure everyone is getting the help that they need so that no one is left behind.”

Vodafone says that the retirement of its 3G network is a crucial part of the strategy to reach Net Zero by 2027 since 5G is ten times more energy-efficient than 3G in terms of equipment.  

Vodafone switched on its first 5G networks in July 2019. As of June 2021, Vodafone has 5G services in 364 locations across Europe – 124 in the UK and 240 across Germany, Spain, Italy, and Ireland. 

While the first 5G networks were turned on to much fanfare, the rollout of the latest generation of cellular network technology has been sluggish. As of September 2021, just 40% of BT customers across the UK had access to 5G services. Vodafone said at the time it was slightly behind BT, while other rivals were even further behind.

Telecoms companies have been seeking to win over businesses to 5G networks, touting the advantages of faster speeds and lower latency for applications such as smart factories.