Viewpoint | 09 May 2023

Andrea Dona: ‘Now is the time to switch off 3G’

Andrea Dona, Vodafone's UK Chief Network Officer, explains why the company is switching off its 3G network and what this means for customers.

Following our successful Basingstoke and Plymouth pilots in February, and as we look towards June when London, Oxford and Hull will be the next on our regional roadmap for 3G switch off, it’s important to reflect on why we are doing this.

A major factor in the decision is that 3G use has already dropped significantly as most of our customers now use the 4G network. Currently, less than 4% of data traffic on our UK network uses 3G. This is in comparison to more than 30% in 2016.

3G as a technology is limited, using old and outdated equipment and taking up valuable spectrum – spectrum which we are repurposing for our faster 4G and 5G services. It’s also energy hungry compared to our newer 4G and 5G networks, and therefore its retirement forms an important part of our UK business strategy to reach Net Zero by 2027.

Let’s not forget that 4% data statistic. Most of our customers are already using newer 4G and 5G devices. For those that are still using our 3G network, we’ve been communicating with them to help ensure they are prepared, whether that be upgrading to a newer 4G-capable device or doing simple checks to ensure 4G Calling is set up on their device and software is up-to-date.

And of course, 2G – which covers over 99% of the UK population – is still available for calls and texts.

3G switch-off is coming: Here's what you need to do

In 2023 Vodafone is retiring 3G in the UK, so it’s time to check your phone – and to check-in on your relatives and neighbours – to see if and how you’ll be affected by the switch-off.

As part of that campaign, we’re encouraging our customers to do these checks not only on their own phone, but on those belonging to friends, family and neighbours.

We’ve also recently launched the Digital Skills Helpline to help those who may need further reassurance or more support in getting the most out of their phone or tablet.

The Digital Skills Helpline is free to call from any UK mobile or landline, and is open to everyone, whether they are a Vodafone customer or not. Throughout this programme of work, our aim has always been to ensure everyone stays connected and no one is left behind.

We’ve been planning this for a long time and a successful switch off wouldn’t be possible without a significant investment in our 4G and 5G networks across a period of years.

Initiatives such as the Shared Rural Network programme and innovative technologies such as OpenRAN are helping us reach more of our customers with our 4G and 5G networks, ensuring every corner of the UK can take advantage of the benefits of digital.

In the areas where we know connectivity is a challenge, we continue to work with Government to ensure we have access to the infrastructure we need to be able to reach as much of the UK as possible.

Vodafone deploys OpenRAN in urban locations in European first

OpenRAN masts in Exmouth and Torquay will be delivered thanks to Vodafone's partnerships with Dell, Intel, Samsung, Wind River, and Capgemini.

It is also worth remembering that my Vodafone colleagues in Germany and Italy have already switched off their 3G networks. Their insight into running a successful programme has been invaluable and we continue to work with them to adopt best practices to ensure a smooth UK transition.

And the future.

In June 2022, we published our Digital Ambition 2030 report, which warned that the UK economy could miss out on £7bn a year if full 5G investment isn’t extended to towns and smaller cities. The benefits to our customers, and the economy, of focusing our attention on 4G and 5G couldn’t be clearer.

Towns and small cities to lose out on 5G? | Vodafone report

New Vodafone research shows that current regulatory and policy environment around full 5G could see UK missing out on £7bn worth of economic benefits.

As we switch off 3G, we’re also entering an extremely exciting period in mobile technology. 5G is beginning to come into its own and we’ve already started trialling the next generation – 5G Standalone (5G SA) – with its higher speeds, lower latency (buffering) and security.

And with its ability to offer network slicing – which allocates dedicated sections of network to customers for guaranteed service levels – 5G SA can support so many technological advances, such as smart robots in factories, remote-assisted surgery, autonomous vehicles, or full-crowd immersion experiences at sport events.

Vodafone believes the UK deserves a world-class network and this isn’t possible without focusing our attention on 4G and 5G. Now really is the time to say goodbye to 3G and say hello to better connections.


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