It appears the sun is setting on 3G as all major mobile phone networks are backing the Government-led plan to switch off the legacy network by 2033.
Vodafone, however, will begin retiring its 3G network in 2023 as part of a 5-year plan to modernise connectivity. The plan will see 3G coverage gradually phased out and replaced by strengthened 4G and 5G services, which will allow customers across the UK to access faster, more reliable connectivity.
We spoke with Programme Leads Jason Reeves and John Tohux at Vodafone, about working towards helping business customers get ready to say goodbye to 3G, to get an insight into what this means for Vodafone and Onecom customers across the UK.
Why is the 3G network being switched off?
John: “There are several reasons for the switch off, but one is that technology is evolving. 3G is almost twenty years old, and we want to focus our efforts on making our newer 4G and 5G networks even better. Only about 4% of data used on Vodafone’s network travels on 3G – there is less of a reliance on 3G than there is 4G. We also need to ensure our customers can continue getting the most coverage and reliability from our network.
Jason: “We will be repurposing our 3G frequencies for 4G and 5G – giving more coverage, faster speeds and better reliability for both networks.”
The spectrum band that carries our 3G traffic today is 900 MHz. This is extremely useful spectrum, as it allows signal to travel long distances and provides good indoor coverage. This spectrum can also be repurposed to carry 4G and 5G traffic. Ultimately, we’ll have 4G and 5G traffic across a wide range of spectrum bands, giving the best combination of rural coverage, indoor coverage, and great data speeds, enabling us to give our customers a reliable network to run their businesses on.”
Jason: “From a customer perspective, everyone is investing in handsets with faster connectivity, and they want a network that can help them make the most of it. You can practically run your business from your phone today with good 4G and 5G connectivity and good coverage.
Moving to 5G also means we can ensure our network is more energy efficient as data usage increases - 5G is more than 10 times as energy efficient as older 3G equipment.
“We’ve taken the lead on modernisation with this switch off and we’re working closely with our customers to give them the support and reassurance they need to get them ready for our 3G network switch off.”
You’ve said 5G is more energy efficient, so does the 3G switch off have a positive impact on the environment?
Jason: “Yes, and this is definitely a key reason to turn off the 3G network.”
John: “Retirement of 3G is an important part of Vodafone’s environmental strategy to reach Net Zero in the UK by 2027. 4G and 5G equipment are more energy efficient. We’ll be taking old equipment away and replacing it with more energy efficient equipment, providing more people with a quality service for lower carbon footprint.”
What is the reasoning behind turning off 3G before 2G?
John: “Everything you can do with 3G is better on 4G, and better still on 5G. We don’t have any immediate plans to turn off 2G, because there are still some unique applications and use cases offered by 2G – despite it being our oldest network – launched back in 1985.”
Jason: “If you think about Machine to Machine (M2M) connections, like Smart Meters for example, they can connect using 2G because they use tiny amounts of data going over the 2G network. 2G will stay on for the time being to allow these devices to operate efficiently. Modern applications can be data hungry and are better suited to 4G and 5G.”
John: “2G will remain for customers using our traditional services like voice and text, however we would like to move all voice and data to 4G and 5G.”
Jason: “The 3G network switch off will allow us to create a good network for both data hungry and low bandwidth applications. We’ll have moved all voice and consumer data traffic onto the part of the network which has the most capacity for doing all those things.”
How will this affect SoHo (Small office/Home office) businesses and SMEs?
John: “Not only are 5G and 4G significantly faster than 3G, but they also offer much greater capacity, enabling many more devices to be connected at the same time. So, this is a significant step in providing an enhanced network experience for all our customers.”
Jason: “In the short term, businesses will need to think about whether the devices they are using can connect to 4G and 5G networks. But, leaving reliance on our 3G network behind will provide many more benefits from faster internet speed to improved call quality, WiFi calling and texting.
“Faster, more reliable 4G and 5G connectivity means that employees can seamlessly and securely work from the cloud or connect to their network, wherever they are. The lower lag time (or latency) of 5G for example creates a smoother and more efficient IT infrastructure. You’ll be able to get files and keep working without interruption, share projects on your phone, or stream video without buffering. All of these time-savers add up, boosting employee efficiency and productivity.”
What’s the plan for 5G?
Jason: “We’re already rolling out 5G across the UK, and the 3G shutdown is part of that plan. As we go through the process of turning off 3G, which will start in 2023, this will allow us to ramp up the bandwidth of 5G and roll it out to more areas of the country.”
John: “We also need to mention that 4G will be enhanced too. For businesses that don’t have access to 5G straight away, our 4G service will also improve significantly.”
How should businesses prepare for the change?
Vodafone is asking customers to make sure their devices support 4G and 4G calling, ahead of the 2023 3G network switch off. They are reaching out to everyone impacted by the 3G network switch off giving customers plenty of time to get a better connection. Some useful information can be found here: https://www.vodafone.co.uk/help-and-information/3g-switch-off.
Vodafone’s UK CEO, Ahmed Essam, said: “We’re building the UK’s most reliable mobile network, and 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.”
Jason Waterworth, Business Director at Onecom said: “3G is nearing its 20-year mark and will have endured better than many other types of technology when it is retired in 2023, but with an exponential increase in the use of mobile data (369% in the last 5 years) and limited spectrum available, repurposing 3G spectrum for 4G & 5G services will result in improved experiences for customers who are increasingly reliant on fast, reliable, and ubiquitous connectivity.
“This enables employees to access data securely and as swiftly as if they were in the office, deliver rich content, and attend virtual meetings from anywhere in the world. It gives them the ability to maximise efficiency and drive productivity, as well as keep in touch with friends and family."
“We at Onecom are committed to providing all our customers with devices, tariffs, and solutions tailored to their requirements so they can take full advantage of the benefits of 4G & 5G.”
At Onecom, we work in partnership with Vodafone Business so that you can have the best choice when it comes to their network.
If you have any questions on how the 3G switch off will affect your business, or about getting your business connected to the 5G mobile network, contact our dedicated team.