3G Shutdown

The closure of 3G networks is growing rapidly across the world. To understand why this is happening, and the reasons for closure we need to look at the historical importance of 3G and how the mobile world has changed since it launched.

Mobile phones delivered the personalisation of voice communications – you could call a person, not a building. This was a major step forward, and it coincided with the rapid growth of data too. The arrival of dial-up access to the internet liberated the use of data communications from the hold of the corporate IT department. Not only did it increase availability, but also the range of purposes it could be used for. 

Mobile technology had transformed a shared Bakelite instrument in the hallway into a device you could carry with you everywhere. 3G would be the start of doing the same for the PC. Much of the standards work ran in parallel to the data revolution on the fixed phone networks, and what ended up being defined reflected that. The focus had been web browsing and email, video was a later consideration.  It was an incomplete story that got translated into what would be an incomplete standard, needing piecemeal updates trying to meet ever-growing expectations as data rates increased, antennae improved, and network architectures evolved.

Where 3G ended was a long way from where it started, and much had been learned along the way by network operators and equipment vendors. 4G took that learning and delivered a more consistent, robust, and capable platform for the evolution of personalised multimedia data communications.  Whereas 3G had essentially been an evolution of the 2G standards in terms of network architecture and service, 4G was a revolution as it was mobile re-engineered from the ground up.

4G enabled a richer user experience from increasingly sophisticated handheld computers. 3G smartphones look archaic by comparison and drove the churn of 3G smartphones.  In tandem, the growth of 4G network coverage has reduced the need for 3G as a backup network as well. As a part of the revolution that was 4G, it was also the first fully IP mobile network architecture, and the basis for all future generations of mobile networking. The reduced demand, the reduced need, and the operational costs of keeping a technical dead-end network will all have driven a decision to retire 3G. Given the ever-increasing demand for mobile services the ability to re-use the spectrum, or re-farm it as it is known in the industry, must have been a further factor in the decision to retire 3G.

What's happening now with the shutdown of 3G?

Despite the success of 4G as a multimedia network, initially, there was no support for voice so drop back to 2G was needed to give that basic capability. With the arrival of VoLTE (Voice Over LTE – Long Term Evolution) the need for 2G to provide voice support was no longer necessary. Alongside the growth in coverage for 4G to rival both 3G and 2G the case for keeping either legacy network was removed. 

The operational complexity and cost of running both IP and non-IP networks presents a significant challenge that compounds the basic issues of capabilities and coverage. Therefore, we are now seeing increasing numbers of operators globally deciding to remove both 2G and 3G.

Based on the announcements so far, shutting down 3G is being prioritised over shutting down 2G. For example, in the UK, Vodafone and EE have announced they are planning to shut 3G down in 2022. This is before the planned closure of 2G in 2025.  The reason for this is likely to be the fact that there is still a far greater customer dependence on 2G – for example legacy IoT devices – than 3G, so migration plans need to be put in place. 

3G performed a critical role in helping us to take our increasing dependence on the Internet mobile. To some extent, it has been the victim of its own success in setting ever-growing expectations. Its role in the transition from basic voice devices to the device that now delivers an experience rich enough to make it the sole device for some people is critical – but as they say, all good things must come to an end.

What are 3G network closures important for me?

A core part of any solution is the IoT module, and those designed to work on 3G cost much less than those designed for the 4G network.  This could be an important factor for IoT applications that need higher data throughput than 2G can support. It may also be important if you have an application where latency could be an issue – the speed with which the action/information gets through. 

What is the position on 3G closures in the UK?

Vodafone and EE have now both announced that they will close their 3G networks in 2022. It is likely the other networks will also announce 3G closure at some point soon as well.

Is 3G still available in the UK?

Vodafone and EE have now both announced that they will close their 3G networks in 2022. It is likely the other networks will also announce 3G closure at some point soon as well.

Are 3G networks going away?

3G networks are architecturally different to 4/5G and as such, to reduce operational costs, are being closed down across the world now. Where 4G has been deployed, the rollout also closely matches or exceeds 3G, so the need for 3G coverage is reduced. The capabilities of 4G far exceed those of 3G now too. To save costs and also re-use radio frequencies for these new networks 3G networks will be phased out. 

Why are mobile operators shutting down 3G networks?

4G is the first mobile service based wholly on IP networking – as is 5G. This is a completely different infrastructure to that which supports 2G and 3G. So to reduce costs and simplify network operations, operators around the world are looking to remove increasingly obsolete technology.

Which networks are still providing 3G?

We have made it our mission to bring you the latest information on what networks are available around the world and which ones are planned for closure.

To find out the latest changes on 3G availability check out our Global Mobile Network Availability Tool before you commit to any IoT solution based on 3G.