UK to phase out 2G and 3G networks by 2033 to speed up 5G rollout

UK 2g 3g phase out

The UK government has said it will phase out 2G and 3G mobile networks by 2033 as it aims to accelerate the rollout of 5G.

It has agreed the 2G and 3G phase-out with UK mobile network operators Vodafone, EE, Virgin Media O2 and Three. The government said the move would free up existing spectrum to increase the speed of the UK’s 5G rollout, which currently lags behind countries such as Japan, South Korea and the US. 

The UK has also unveiled £50m of spending on telecoms research and development projects.

These announcements come after the UK government’s ban on the purchase of new Huawei 5G equipment after 31 December 2020. Additionally, all Huawei equipment currently being used is to be removed from 5G networks by the end of 2027. This was done following advice produced by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) on the impact of US sanctions against Huawei.

The government added that it will invest £250m to accelerate the rollout of Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN), an approach to mobile networks in which parts can be used from multiple telecoms suppliers.

The new plans aim to deliver £36m in funding for fifteen projects that will trial this technology across Scotland, Wales and England, move 35% of the UK’s mobile network traffic over Open RAN by 2030, and includes a £15m cash injection for the SONIC prototype testing facility which will work on next-generation telecoms tech.

Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries announced the plans ahead of her first official visit to the US. During the four-day trip, she will meet with US Secretary for Commerce Gina Raimondo and other officials to discuss how the US and UK and diversify the global telecoms supply chain, along with how to co-operate on transatlantic data policy.

“Today we are announcing a further £50 million to put the UK at the forefront of mobile connectivity and to make sure our telecoms networks are safe and secure now and in the future,” said Dorries. “We can only do this through stronger international collaboration and I will be meeting with our US allies today as we strengthen our ties on technology.”

Matthew Evans, director of markets at techUK, said: “While more can be done to accelerate the commercialisation of UK innovation in advanced connectivity, opportunities like FRANC show the willingness of our tech companies, SMEs and academic community in helping deliver the long-term aspirations of secure, resilient, open and disaggregated networks.”